Duke is still on the NCAA bubble. Here’s what the team must do to make the tournament.

Steve Wiseman
·5 min read

Like a procrastinating student up against it to get a semester-long project finished by finals week, here are the Duke Blue Devils rushing to collect wins in time for March’s NCAA tournament.

Young and not ready for the ACC grind through January and early February, Duke fumbled its way to a losing record as late as Feb.12.

What’s followed, though, are four consecutive wins that have boosted the Blue Devils NCAA tournament hopes from a cooling ember to a raging conflagration.

“We’re a young group so we’ve been battling,” Duke freshman guard Jeremy Roach said Monday night after Duke beat Syracuse, 85-71. “We’ve been through ups and downs. At this point, any adversity for us, we’ll get through it. It’s just been a long season. We’re finally starting to get our rhythm and I’m excited to keep getting better. We’re clicking at the right time.”

In this case, the right time was the only time remaining.

Duke (11-8, 9-6 ACC) has yet to do enough to merit a place in the NCAA tournament next month. But the Blue Devils are now fully back in the conversation and showing they’re capable of adding even more wins to their resume.

“I think we’ve had a sense of urgency since we’ve lost,” Duke freshman center Mark Williams said. “Each time you play, you’re not trying to lose. You’re trying to win each game, play as hard as you can and get in the win column.”

Here’s a look at Duke’s NCAA tournament case and what the Blue Devils still have available to add:

Computer rankings

On Tuesday morning, Duke shot up to No. 47 in the NET ratings the NCAA tournament selection committee uses to compare teams. The Blue Devils were No 56 prior to beating Syracuse and had been at No. 60 last week before they beat Virginia, 66-65 on Saturday night.

Prior to this four-game winning streak, Duke was in the NET’s low 60s so the climb has been steep and quick.

At this point, Duke is hoping to get into the NCAA tournament’s First Four as an 11 or a 12 seed. Other teams in that conversation include Colorado State (13-4, No. 46 NET), Seton Hall (13-9, No. 51 NET), Indiana (12-10, No. 52 NET), UConn (10-6, No. 55 NET) and Minnesota (13-10, No. 60 NET).

Duke is positioned in good shape there for now.

Duke’s case is stronger when looking at Ken Pomeroy’s advanced analysis. Based on offensive and defensive efficiency, KenPom has Duke at No. 30 nationally, ahead of Indiana (33), UConn (34), Seton Hall (37), Minnesota (48) and Colorado State (66).

Quadrants

The Blue Devils do not have the strongest case here, even after the win over Virginia. But the Blue Devils still have opportunities to improve.

Duke is 2-3 against teams in Quadrant 1, the highest tier of games. UConn and Colorado State are also 2-3, while Indiana (3-7), Seton Hall (3-6) and Minnesota (4-10) have played more Quadrant 1 games and have poorer records.

Duke is 4-3 in Quadrant 2 games, 3-2 in Quadrant 3 and 2-0 in Quadrant 4 games.

Indiana, by comparison, is 5-1 in Quadrant 2, while Seton Hall (2-2) and Colorado State (1-1) have split their games there.

Minnesota is 9-0 in games outside Quadrant 1, meaning the Golden Gophers have no bad losses. Duke’s 75-69 home loss to No. 81 Michigan State and the 77-75 road loss to No. 162 Miami are Quadrant 3 losses that damage the Blue Devils’ case.

Bracketology

The various bracket projectors are coming around to the Blue Devils as a tournament team, but the percentage remains small. Bracketmatrix.com lists 111 NCAA tournament projections Tuesday and just eight have the Blue Devils in the field.

Duke is seeded 10th, 11th or 12th in those projections.

Seton Hall is included in 105 brackets, while Indiana (94), Colorado State (82), Minnesota (81) and UConn (78) are far more popular choices.

On Tuesday, neither Jerry Palm of CBS Sports or ESPN’s Joe Lunardi have Duke in their brackets. Lunardi has Duke as one of the first four teams out of the field, meaning he has the Blue Devils between seeds 69-72 for the 68-team field.

What’s next

The work Duke turned in over the last four games was substantial but there’s more to do.

The Blue Devils close their home schedule on Saturday against Louisville (11-5, 6-4 ACC), which projects as a Quadrant 2 game because the Cardinals are currently No. 53 in the NET.

Duke gets Quadrant 1 opportunities in the final week of the regular season, playing at Georgia Tech (No. 49 NET) and North Carolina (No. 33 NET).

The ACC tournament in Greensboro follows. Duke is currently in fifth place and doesn’t yet qualify for a double-bye into the tournament quarterfinals. So the Blue Devils could have a chance to play four games in the tournament and further improve their resume.

Back in 2017, Duke became the first ACC team to win four games in four days to win the ACC championship and earn the league’s automatic bid. Doing that, of course, would make all the bubble conversations moot.