Duke released its 2017-18 non-conference schedule on Wednesday.
It's typical Duke. There are some nice matchups -- surrounded by way too many afterthoughts and cupcake games. Yet again, Mike Krzyzewski is using his clout -- well earned, of course -- to refuse to play any true road games outside of league play except where television contracts mandate otherwise.
A few thoughts on Duke's schedule below. But first, here's who's up for the Devils next season:
Nov. 11: vs. Grand Canyon
Nov. 12: home game TBD
Nov. 15: vs. Kansas (Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden)
Nov. 19: vs. Penn State (Hall of Fame Tip-Off at Connecticut's Mohegan Sun Arena)
Nov. 20: vs. Cincinnati or Rhode Island (Mohegan Sun)
Nov. 23: vs. William & Mary
Nov. 26: vs. Appalachian State
Nov. 29: vs. Michigan State (ACC/Big Ten Challenge)
Dec. 3: vs. Maine
Dec. 6: vs. Florida (Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden)
Dec. 10: vs. UNLV (at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas)
Dec. 19: vs. Tennessee State
Dec. 21: vs. Elon (in Greensboro, N.C.)
It's not terrible. But remember, Duke is almost certainly going to be the consensus No. 1 team in the preseason. Krzyzewski has a solid chance to win a sixth national title, which is so impressive considering he's approaching 70 and still operating at the peak of his profession.
Still, the schedule just leaves plenty to be desired. We'll have anticipated matchups with the Kansas and Michigan State games. Cincinnati and Rhode Island could be top-25 teams, so those aren't gimmes.
"Certainly, Florida represents a significant challenge," Krzyzewski said in a team statement.
"Significant challenge" wouldn't be my two words of choice. "Capable opponent" is more like it. Florida didn't make last year's NCAA Tournament and is the middle of a program re-brand under a second-year coach who's still not filled out the roster with his players. And the game will be played in New York City, which brings in well above 5,000 sidewalk Duke alumni every year wherever the team winds up playing in the great NYC area. Perhaps Florida will be OK by early December. But the only game in a quasi-road environment will be against a UNLV team that's still having trouble filling out a roster of scholarship players.
If only we'd get the preseason No. 1 team lining up its non-conference schedule with more heft, more challenges, more reasons to watch them, the sport, all of it. This is an annual gripe, and Duke is one of many schools that refuse to schedule out of conference in a challenging way. Playing in a tough league doesn't make up for it; if anything, the NCAA Tournament selection committee should be looking more and more at this type of behavior and rewarding teams that do opt to make it tougher on themselves in November and December.
The problem big programs have is with the math. They need a certain amount of home games to fill out the schedule, to make money for the athletic department, etc. Problem is, Duke isn't courting as many big-time teams as it should, plus it's refusing to play on the road and instead opting to go neutral court as often as possible, as Krzyzewski knows the NCAA Tournament is of course played on a neutral floor.
This isn't to say Duke's schedule is easy. It's not. But it's also not hard -- and nothing compared to what Bill Self has lined up for Kansas. Duke's slate is largely uninteresting. Another part of the calculus deals with intra-league road games against Syracuse, Virginia, UNC, Miami, Notre Dame and improving Virginia Tech. Those will all be tough in ACC play. But if Duke's roster shapes up as one of the best in the country, it'd be nice if the team's non-conference schedule could be even top 20 in the nation. That won't happen. We'll get a few good looks on neutral courts against Kansas and Michigan State, but will mostly have to wait until January to see Duke where it will be tested best: on the road, in a truly difficult environment.
The sooner college basketball can get its top 25-level programs playing marquee games more frequently -- and in true home/road environments -- the better the sport will be for it. It's going to take schools like Duke to catalyze that change. I figure we won't see that happen until Krzyzewski retires, and maybe not even then.