Duke’s NCAA Tournament hopes are fading as we approach March.
It seems almost unfathomable to imagine an NCAA Tournament without Duke basketball but the 2020-21 season has been an unusual one from the jump. Teams that rely heavily on freshmen have been hit hard by the condensed offseason, including the Blue Devils, who enter the week at just 7-7 overall and 5-5 in ACC play.
That resume doesn’t have Duke anywhere near the bubble, which makes sense if you take a deeper look at the numbers. The Blue Devils are rated 70th in the NET rankings, which has been the NCAA’s de facto replacement for the RPI, a figure that isn’t good enough for an at-large bid in a competitive field.
Duke basketball needs to go on a tear to make the NCAA Tournament
Another issue is a poor overall schedule for Duke, which cut its non-conference schedule short after just four games. Mike Krzyzewski’s team lost to the only two Power 5 programs it played, including a home defeat to Michigan State that has gotten worse thanks to a poor run from the Spartans.
There are also only four Quadrant 1 games on Duke’s schedule and they are 1-3 in them, with the one victory coming at home against Clemson. The Blue Devils are just 1-4 away from Cameron Indoor Stadium and that victory came against a Notre Dame team that is an ACC bottom feeder.
The bad news for the Blue Devils is that there are only eight games left on their regular-season schedule with one marquee win opportunity available against Virginia on Feb. 20. That game is a must-win for Duke, which will also need to take care of business against ACC bubble teams like North Carolina, Louisville, Syracuse and Georgia Tech.
Assuming the Blue Devils take care of business against bottom-feeders like Notre Dame and Wake Forest, a 3-3 split of the other six only leaves Duke at 12-10 entering the ACC Tournament. The Blue Devils would need to make a good run there and lose to someone like Virginia in order to have a prayer of an at-large, making it important for Duke to score as many wins as possible to avoid missing the dance for the first time since 1995.
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