Photo Credit: The Denver Post
To open up this season of NCAA basketball, the Duke Blue Devils were to popular choice to make a run to the Final Four in the NCAA basketball tournament and bring home their second national championship in three seasons. However, things have not gone as planned so far for Duke. They certainly are not a bad team, but in a deep Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) that is probably the best conference in college basketball loaded with talented teams, their recent struggles have made people question how good they really are.
In a 15-team ACC, Duke, who was ranked #7 in this past week’s AP Poll but will likely drop following Saturday’s 78-69 loss to the #14 Louisville Cardinals, sits tied for 9th place with a 2-3 conference record. They do, however, boast a 14-4 overall record. However, their best win was probably their victory against the then-#21, now-#23 Florida Gators, a game they won by a score of 84-74. Other than that, Duke has struggles against good teams.
Of Duke’s four losses, three came on the road and one came at a neutral court. Their loss against the then-#7, now-#2 Kansas Jayhawks was their lone loss on a neutral court. It was a close loss, as Kansas only won by a score of 77-75; however, it was the loss that dropped Duke from the #1 spot in the AP Poll. After that loss, Duke reeled off 10 consecutive wins.
After the 10th game of their 10-game winning streak, Duke entered ACC play. Three of Duke’s first five games against ACC opponents were road games. The 12-1 Duke Blue Devils ended up dropping all three of those road games and winning the two home games. The lost to the Virginia Tech Hokies by a score of 89-75; the #9 Florida State Seminoles by a score of 88-72; and the #14 Louisville Cardinals by a score of 78-69. They only beat the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and the Boston College Eagles, arguably the worst two teams in the ACC, over that span.
While Duke has been struggling, other ACC teams have been doing well. But I want to start off by giving Duke the benefit of the doubt. The Syracuse Orange, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, and the Miami Hurricanes are all ahead of Duke in the ACC standings, but none of those teams are even ranked in the top 25 in the AP Poll, and none of them are as good as Duke to begin with. The other ACC teams that have been doing well are the #20 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who sit atop the ACC; the #9 Florida State Seminoles, who are tied for 2nd in the ACC; the #11 North Carolina Tar Heels, who are also tied for 2nd in the ACC; the #14 Louisville Cardinals, who are tied for 4th in the ACC; and the #19 Virginia Cavaliers, who are also tied for 4th in the ACC.
Notre Dame and Florida State are both 16-2 overall, with a 5-0 ACC record and a 4-1 ACC record, respectively. North Carolina is also 4-1 in the ACC with a 16-3 overall record. Louisville and Virginia are both 3-2 in the ACC, with a 15-3 overall record and a 13-3 overall record, respectively.
Of the six combined ACC losses that these five teams have had, four of them are against each other. Meanwhile, Duke is 0-2 against these five teams, meaning they have lost half as many games against these five teams as these five teams have combined against each other, and Duke has done so without a victory against any one of them.
Right now, it is fair to say that Duke is not even a top 5 team in the ACC given the successes of the five teams mentioned above compared to Duke’s recent struggles. However, given that Duke still has arguably the most talented roster in the country, that could all change. Even if it does not change soon, Duke will still have the ACC tournament to prove that they are legitimate national title contenders out of the ACC, and they will have the NCAA basketball tournament to turn things around if all else fails. But as of right now, Duke is definitely not one of the ACC’s best five teams.