SI6HTS? NOT if They Don’t Snag 21 First

As Duke prepares to begin their run at a 21st ACC Tournament Title, a question that often comes up with conference tourney runs is how important is winning the thing really?

Especially when one considers that Duke measures its basketball success more by Final Four and National Title banners, than ACC ones. After last year’s historic four wins in four days run, when the Blue Devils captured their 20th title, they fell apart in the NCAA tournament to South Carolina. This left myself and I’m sure many other fans wondering if this weekend should really be a priority for the Devils? The short answer is: yes.

Duke currently sits at 25-6, #5 in the AP poll, and the 2nd seed in the ACC
tourney. They own wins over Michigan State, UNC, Clemson, Florida and Miami, and have won 6 of their last 7 games, including a 13 point come back over their rivals from down the road in Chapel Hill. Compare that with last year’s squad who went into the ACC tournament as the 5th seed with 23-8 record, no signature out of conference win,and losers of 3 of their last 4. Most would understand while last year’s run, ultimately rendered meaningless with their early NCAA loss, was necessary for a team trying to increase their standing with the selection committee. But is this current iteration of Duke really in a spot where they can just believe that coming out of this weekend with anything other than a victory still puts them in a good position for the NCAA tournament? No, because this team isn’t guaranteed anything at this point.

While the 2017-18 Blue Devils certainly look to have much better chemistry and to a certain extent, talent, than last year’s team, the comparison to the 2015 National Title team still doesn’t seem to apply to me. That team only lost once after the month of January and that was in the ACC Tournament. That team may have played in a weaker ACC than this years’, but they went on the road and beat ACC Regular Season Champions Virginia in their house, something this team couldn’t do at home. I get that every team is different, but the fact is, this Duke team has shown that they can lose to just about any team that has any sort of talent on it, which is why they should be striving to win every game at this ACC Tournament. That is the only way to guarantee a #1 seed in the NCAA’s which keeps this Duke team from falling into the traps its predecessors have fallen into.

Since 2000 Duke has been a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament nine times, with all nine of those trips ending in the Sweet 16 or beyond. In the other nine tournaments, they have been a #2 seed or below, with only four of those trips ending in the Sweet 16 or beyond. And three of the times they have been a #2 seed have ended with losses to teams with inferior talent and seeding. Those stats show that K’s boys have performed better, naturally, when they have had the better match-ups as a #1 seed. No #1 seed has ever lost to a #16, which means the #1 seeds are essentially gifted a win, the same cannot be said for #2 seeds going up against #15 seeds. Number 1 seeds are also overwhelming favorites to win games against either the #8 or #9 seed, again, not the same for #2’s over
#7 or #10 seeds.

All of these numbers boil down to this: if Duke wants to ensure they have a better shot at advancing to April, they need to start in March. The Blue Devils are not in any way guaranteed a #1 seed at this point and a loss in their first game to Notre Dame would likely put them squarely on the #2 seed line. Meanwhile, three wins and an ACC Title, which could come at the expense of Virginia and UNC, puts Duke not only on the #1 seed line, but could put them as the #1 overall seed, giving them the theoretically “easiest” path to San Antonio.

Like many recent seasons of Duke basketball, this one has been all over the place, perhaps not as much as last year’s roller coaster, but still twisty all the same. That said, this team is really starting to mesh at the right time, and the defense is improving by leaps and bounds. As a man who wants to see Duke cut down the nets in San Antonio, I believe they need start by making it their mission to cut down the nets in Brooklyn Saturday night. The 2001 and 2010 seasons ended with Duke cutting down the nets in both tourneys, and coincidentally both of those teams were #1 seeds. So here’s to hoping that the Blue Devil boys do it again, and cut down those nets in New York and Texas!

-JD Smith

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