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Breaking down the Blue Devils' NCAA tournament resume

Duke likely needs a deep ACC tournament run

<p>Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie and the Blue Devils will likely need to make a deep run in this week’s ACC tournament to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive.</p>

Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie and the Blue Devils will likely need to make a deep run in this week’s ACC tournament to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive.

In years past, the ACC tournament has frequently been a formality for the Blue Devils—nothing more than a stop on the road to the NCAA tournament.

But with postseason hopes hanging in the balance for this year’s team—even after a dominant 93-57 win Sunday at North Carolina—Duke will need to make the most of its opportunities in Greensboro, N.C., this week.

The Blue Devils enter the conference tournament seeded eighth—the lowest since former head coach Gail Goestenkors’ first season in 1992-93. Given its 19-11 overall record to go along with just an 8-8 mark in the ACC, Duke may need to run the table and bring the conference title back to Durham if it hope to ensure a spot in the field of 64 for the 21st consecutive season.

If nothing else, the Blue Devils will have to at least compete with top-seeded Notre Dame—should they advance to Friday’s quarterfinal round—and prove to the NCAA selection committee that they can match up with the nation’s elite.

“We know we’re a very good team,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said after Sunday’s game. “The adversity we’ve had has been outside of our control. Some other teams have struggled and we keep getting moved in with them, but that’s been inside their control. For us, it’s been completely outside our control, this adversity, so we know we can play. It was great to see the team come together like they did, and we look forward to still trying to add Azurá [Stevens] and build from that so we can be better and stronger.”

After losing freshman Haley Gorecki and redshirt freshman Lyneé Belton to season-ending injuries, junior Kendall Cooper for the spring semester and Stevens to a lengthy absence as a result of a torn left plantar fascia, Duke dropped five of its final eight conference games.

Now, the Blue Devils are in the unenviable position of sitting squarely on the tournament bubble. As of March 1, ESPN Bracketology expert Charlie Creme had Duke in his First Four Out.

“I feel very good about us getting in,” McCallie said Sunday. “You look at how close we’ve been and you actually factor in how many people have been out, it’s a pretty extraordinary season.”

In many ways, the Blue Devils have a unique resume when compared with others on the fringe of earning an at-large bid. Their RPI currently ranks 51st in the country—in the middle of the pack compared to the top eight teams excluded from Creme’s most recent bracket—and their strength of schedule ranks 25th overall—above three of the top 10 teams in the RPI.

Still, Duke has yet to win a game against a ranked opponent. The Blue Devils lost road matchups at then-No. 2 South Carolina, then-No. 8 Kentucky and then-No. 16 Miami as well as home games against then-No. 12 Texas A&M, then-No. 3 Notre Dame and then-No. 10 Florida State. Throw in a pair of losses to No. 17 Syracuse and No. 7 Louisville and Duke holds an 0-8 record against teams currently in the AP top 25—something that the committee will take into account come Selection Monday.

But despite the challenges of a season in which the Blue Devils fell out of the rankings for the first time since November 1999 and saw their 44-game winning streak against Wake Forest come to an end, Duke has had to reinvent itself—particularly since Stevens’ Feb. 1 injury.

“Individually, we’ve been able to realize our potential,” redshirt sophomore Rebecca Greenwell said. “Oderah [Chidom] especially has grown her game since Azurá’s been out—being more of a scoring threat, she’s been really great. Everyone is learning their individual games and trying to grow from a scoring standpoint [and maturing] defensively because Azurá factors in on both ends.”

Greenwell’s 27-point, 10-rebound outing Sunday was her best showing since she posted 25 points and 12 rebounds against Virginia at home Feb. 4—the first of seven straight games in which Stevens was sidelined.

Whether Stevens—a midseason Wooden award candidate and Duke’s leading scorer—returns to the court in Greensboro or not, the Blue Devils will need to grab two victories if they hope to avoid watching another lengthy streak come to an end. The last time Duke failed to snag a spot in the ACC tournament semifinals was in 2012, when it fell 75-73 to N.C. State in its opening game.

Although the odds may not be in the Blue Devils’ favor at the moment, the opportunity to play their way into March Madness starts Thursday.

“I think [the key is] just taking one game at a time,” Stevens said. “We can’t look ahead and put pressure onto ourselves. We just have to play Duke basketball every time, and if we do that, [making the tournament will] take care of itself.”

Ryan Hoerger contributed reporting.

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 


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