Another tough schedule for No. 6 Duke

The way Joanne P. McCallie sees it, her Duke team won’t play

many easy games in March or April.

So the Blue Devils can’t afford themselves many early-season

breathers, either.

Once again, No. 6 Duke has lined up a brutal nonconference

schedule to prepare for the rigors of the postseason. The Blue

Devils will face four teams ranked in the top 10 of The Associated

Press preseason Top 25, and how well they handle those opponents

might go a long way toward determining just how good Duke will

be.

”It’s all hard,” McCallie said. ”And, frankly, if you’re

going to win six games in a row at the end of the year, well you

just better get used to hard.”

The defending Atlantic Coast Conference tournament champions

will face No. 5 Xavier, No. 8 Texas A&M and No. 9 Kentucky at

Cameron Indoor Stadium and will visit top-ranked Connecticut.

That’s in addition to taking on an ACC schedule that has three

other nationally ranked teams.

It’s all part of McCallie’s plan to prepare her team to make

deep runs in the ACC and NCAA tournaments. Her first three Duke

teams reached the ACC title game, and last year’s group won it,

then advanced to the NCAA regional finals and finished 30-6.

”We could schedule to be 20-0. We could do that,” McCallie

said. ”I’ve seen schedules that look like they’re going to be 20-0

based on what I’ve seen. …

”But the bottom line is, I think (playing a tough schedule) is

what we’ve got to do,” she added. ”Why are we waiting? I’m not

going to break any win records at Duke. I’m not into, ‘Gee, let’s

win a bunch so it looks good.’ The idea is all about March and

April.”

This Duke team, which for the first time since 2005 picked in

the preseason to win the ACC, might be more balanced than its

immediate predecessors, with legitimate threats both inside and

outside.

Guard Jasmine Thomas is the ACC’s preseason player of the year

after a junior year in which she averaged 16 points and became the

second Blue Devils with 100 steals in a season.

They also appear set in the paint with 6-foot-4 senior Krystal

Thomas and 6-5 sophomore Allison Vernerey underneath.

”The beauty of playing with Allison is that she is very easy to

flow with,” Thomas said. ”We complement each other very well,

because we are very opposite. She can get down there, run the floor

with the guards, whereas I am much more the power, more physical

post. … It works really well to have two bigs offensively and

defensively in the lane.”

The biggest question mark might be how well a talented

recruiting class, picked by some services as the nation’s best,

picks up the system and meshes with a solid group of returning

veterans. Guards Chelsea Gray, Tricia Liston and Chloe Wells and

forwards Richa Jackson and Haley Peters make up the class, and

behind them, McCallie said the Blue Devils tossed up 40 3-pointers

during the annual Blue-White scrimmage.

”We have rims in our eyes and springs in our arms,” McCallie

quipped. ”We had to get that out of our system, which is, ‘I think

I will just shoot at any time.’ That mentality, we’ve got to have a

little bit of a plan behind what we do, and we have to work

together to create what I consider our shot, and we haven’t done

that yet.”