UNC Basketball: Duke STILL on the NCAA Tournament bubble? HOW?!

Mar 2, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets forward Moses Wright (5) reacts after a score against the Duke Blue Devils in the second half at McCamish Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 2, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets forward Moses Wright (5) reacts after a score against the Duke Blue Devils in the second half at McCamish Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

The Duke Blue Devils, long-time rival of the UNC basketball program, are somehow still on the NCAA Tournament bubble. But how?!

The Duke Blue Devils are in the midst of what will undoubtedly go down as one of the most disappointing seasons in program history — certainly within the confines of the Mike Krzyzewski era. Currently sitting with a record of 11-10, and in eighth-place of the Atlantic Coast Conference standings, the Blue Devils look quite dissimilar from seasons past.

A team that is normally battling for a top spot in March’s NCAA Tournament every year, the Blue Devils are merely a “bubble” team in 2021, hoping for resume-building wins that at least put them in the conversation for one of the bracket’s last few bids. But is there enough time before the tournament for them to do so? And are there enough good teams in a weak ACC for them to bolster what could easily be summed up as, at best, a poor body of work?

Or maybe the more peculiar thing about this situation — and the one that we should be far more focused on — is why this conversation is even happening in the first place.

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Again, we’re talking about a team that is one game over .500, and did almost nothing noteworthy over the season’s first three months. And even when they beat seventh-ranked Virginia by one point at Cameron Indoor Stadium, it was when the Cavaliers were in the midst of a three-game losing streak that saw them drop 14 spots in the Associated Press Poll, and multiple seed lines in projected NCAA Tournament brackets.

This is a Duke team that lost to every other ranked opponent it played this season, and got swept by the Louisville Cardinals. The second of two losses to Louisville came just days after a 45-point blowout defeat to North Carolina, which was the Cardinals’ first game back on the court following a three-week hiatus from basketball activities due to issues surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. The Cardinals, which had looked like a shell of their former selves against UNC, came out and played terrific basketball on the road against the Blue Devils. But was Louisville really that good, or was Duke just that bad?

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MIAMI, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 01: Jalen Johnson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils drives to the basket against Nysier Brooks #3 of the Miami Hurricanes during the first half at Watsco Center on February 01, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

After bidding farewell to 5-star freshman forward and future first-round NBA draft pick Jalen Johnson in February, the Blue Devils rolled off four consecutive wins. But that came after a three-game losing streak — Miami, UNC and Notre Dame — and was followed by another pair of losses. And now, with just one game remaining on their schedule, the Blue Devils will have to beat the Tar Heels, and hope for a miracle in the upcoming ACC Tournament.

That miracle should include having to win their conference tourney, as nothing else that they’ve accomplished over the past four months should constitute an NCAA Tournament bid. Not one single thing about their 2020-21 season says “this is an NCAA Tournament team.” For some reason, though, Bracketologists such as ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, still see Duke as a team that’s just on the cusp, labeled as one of the “first four out” in his latest bracket.

But maybe for some teams, all it takes is the presence of their Hall-of Fame head coach on the bench, or the name on the jersey. Maybe television ratings play a part in it, too. And perhaps some of the powers that be simply don’t want to see an end-of-season tournament without one of the most polarizing teams in the sport participating in it.

North Carolina, which has struggled mightily itself this season en route to a 15-9 overall record and a seventh-place position in league standings, could certainly benefit from some of the aforementioned factors, too. But the Tar Heels will be able to lean on their own merit far more than the Blue Devils will when Selection Sunday arrives less than two weeks from now.

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