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How likely is Duke men's basketball's first outright ACC regular season title since 2006?

The Blue Devils currently are atop the ACC standings.
The Blue Devils currently are atop the ACC standings.

Though this year’s Duke team may not generate a ton of hype, the 2019-20 Blue Devils are primed to accomplish something that the previous 13 Duke squads have not: win an outright ACC regular season title.

With less than three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Blue Devils currently sit atop the ACC standings, holding a half-game lead over both Louisville and Florida State. No other team in the conference is within less than three games of the lead, so we will ignore the rest of the ACC for this exercise (sorry Virginia). 

Without further ado, let’s take a look at how likely for each of the top three teams to pull out an ACC regular season title.

Florida State (currently 12-3 in the ACC) 

The Seminoles certainly still have a chance to win the ACC, but their path to doing so is much more difficult than the other two contenders. 

Of Florida State’s five remaining games, only one is a sure victory: the season finale against Boston College. The four prior contests present as grueling a stretch as possible. The Seminoles will play a trio of capable opponents on the road in North Carolina State, Clemson and Notre Dame, with the rematch against Louisville in Tallahassee, Fla., sandwiched between the tilts against the Wolfpack and the Tigers.

Given the Blue Devils’ softer remaining schedule (more on that later), the Seminoles likely need to win out in order to secure the crown. With their gauntlet of a schedule, I just don’t see this happening, and I expect Florida State to drop two of its four tough contests, locking it into the third spot in the ACC standings. 

Worst-case scenario: 1-4 over final five, 13-7 in the ACC

Best-case scenario: 5-0 over final five, 17-3 in the ACC

My prediction: 3-2 over final five, 15-5 in the ACC

Louisville (currently 12-3 in the ACC)

At the beginning of last week, the Cardinals looked like a near lock to win the ACC, with Louisville riding 10 straight wins in conference play, including a victory against Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. But back-to-back losses to Georgia Tech and Clemson ejected the Cardinals from the ACC driver’s seat, putting Louisville a game behind the Blue Devils in the loss column.

Three of the Cardinals’ remaining games are manageable matchups against Syracuse, North Carolina and Virginia Tech at their home KFC Yum! Center. However, Louisville still has away contests against Florida State and Virginia on the docket, two of the tougher tests that the ACC has to offer. I expect the Cardinals to take care of business at home but drop one of its two road tilts, putting Louisville at 16-4.

Worst-case scenario: 3-2 over final five, 15-5 in the ACC

Best-case scenario: 5-0 over final five, 17-3 in the ACC

My prediction: 4-1 over final five, 16-4 in the ACC

Duke (currently 12-2 in the ACC)

With the edge in the loss column over both the Cardinals and Seminoles, the Blue Devils control their own destiny. If Duke wins out, which is a very legitimate possibility, it will be the outright ACC regular season champion for the first time since 2006. Considering the unlikelihood of Louisville or Florida State winning out, the Blue Devils can probably even afford to drop one game in this stretch.  

In addition to its lead, Duke also benefits from the easiest schedule of the three teams. KenPom.com places the Blue Devils’ win probability in each of their final six games at 70 percent or higher, with four of the contests at 85 percent or higher. All three of Duke's home games fall in the 85-plus percent bucket, with Virginia Tech, N.C. State and North Carolina set to come to Durham.

Getting a win in road matchups against the Wolfpack and the Cavaliers is no sure thing, but Duke probably just needs to win one of those games to claim the ACC title. I’m confident that the Blue Devils can do just that, capturing the ACC title.

Worst-case scenario: 4-2 over final six, 16-4 in the ACC

Best-case scenario: 6-0 over final six, 18-2 in the ACC

My prediction: 5-1 over final six, 17-3 in the ACC

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