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Counterpoint: Duke men's basketball hasn't proven it can make NCAA tournament

Coach K watches on during Duke's loss at Pittsburgh Tuesday, the team's second loss in a row.
Coach K watches on during Duke's loss at Pittsburgh Tuesday, the team's second loss in a row.

Our Jake Piazza and Alex Jackson engage in a point/counterpoint debating whether or not the struggling Blue Devils will make the NCAA tournament this season. This is Alex's argument for why Duke won't make it in. To read Jake's point, click here.

After dropping out of the AP Top 25 for the first time in nearly five years, and following that up with a loss at Pittsburgh Tuesday, many people are concerned with Duke’s current NCAA tournament standing—and rightfully so.

In a typical year, we debate the Blue Devils’ status as a top seed, but this year we’re forced to look at their chances of even making it to March Madness.

The talent is undoubtedly present. Freshman Jalen Johnson has what it takes to be crowned ACC Freshman of the Year, and Matthew Hurt is a leading candidate for the even greater achievement of ACC Player of the Year. Despite that, Duke sits at 5-4 on the season, and the issues are glaring. You can fill up the stat sheet as much as you want, but it means nothing if your team is sitting with around a .500 record and no wins against ranked opponents. 

At the beginning of the season, it was fine to look rusty. An overhauled, young roster that had barely played together won’t look like a well-oiled machine in the first month. But as the season drags on, you start to run out of excuses. You want me to believe arguably the greatest college basketball coach of all time can’t get this group to play like a team? Clearly, the issues are more deeply rooted than inexperience.  

If I’m the selection committee, I’m looking at a group that’s on pace to finish 12-10 and 11-7 in conference play—both of which are generous estimations due to the increasing strength of schedule within Duke’s conference slate—and I’m saying, ‘This team has no place in my tournament.’

Forget the name recognition, the cashflow potential, the talent and everything else that has historically aided the public’s perception of Duke basketball. A team that has amassed zero meaningful wins all year—and has been thoroughly outplayed by its only four opponents thus far likely to make it into the NCAA tournament themselves—no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt to make it in, even as a bottom seed. 

Let’s take a quick look at how Duke has fared so far this year against potential NCAA tournament teams:

  • Six-point loss to Michigan State
  • 15-point loss to Illinois
  • Seven-point loss to Virginia Tech
  • Six-point loss to Pittsburgh

If this looks like a tournament resume to you, feel free to stop reading. 

Furthermore, the Blue Devils sit at No. 92 in the current NET rankings. For reference, 50-60 is where most bubble teams sit.

I’m not saying the Blue Devils have no shot of making the NCAA tournament. There are still many, although not endless, games for them to go on a winning streak. Most importantly, there is opportunity to prove themselves against tournament-caliber teams, and of course a good ACC tournament showing never hurts. 

But right now, Coach K and the rest of the team needs to focus on game-to-game improvement—something the Blue Devils have failed to show significantly through their first nine contests—if they want to secure a spot and have the potential to make a Cinderella run come March.

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