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Point: Duke men's basketball will still make NCAA tournament thanks to talent surplus, easy schedule

Jalen Johnson's return from injury could be the spark Duke needs to push itself into the NCAA tournament.
Jalen Johnson's return from injury could be the spark Duke needs to push itself into the NCAA tournament.

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 Jake's argument for why Duke will still make it in. To read Alex's counterpoint, click here.

There are only a few certainties in life. And while Duke making the NCAA tournament is not as set in stone as death and taxes, it’s not far off.

Are the Blue Devils playing at a far inferior level than what we typically see from Duke squads? Yes, and there’s no sugarcoating how abysmal the start to this season has been. 

But the buzz I’ve been hearing about Duke missing the NCAA tournament is outright ludicrous. This isn’t going to be a season in which Duke makes a run at the Final Four, but questioning if this team even makes it to March Madness is a bit too far. 

Let’s break down the Blue Devils’ record first. They’re sitting at 5-4 on the season thus far, and don’t have an impressive victory to their name, but their remaining schedule makes an NCAA tournament-worthy record very attainable. As of now, the rest of Duke’s slate includes a total of zero top-10 matchups and only two games featuring ranked opponents.

In this season’s weak ACC, any team is fully capable of stealing a win on any given night, something that tremendously favors a Duke squad among the most talented and well-coached in the conference.

For those who’ve been following the team closely this season, you’ll know that Jalen Johnson, Matthew Hurt, DJ Steward and Jeremy Roach can drop a 20-point game in the blink of an eye. If this was a team lacking talent, one without any individual players who seemed capable of taking on a star role, then maybe I’d be worried. But what we’re dealing with here is a group loaded with talent that didn’t get the benefit of a normal number of nonconference games prior to ACC play. 

And in this case, I don’t want to hear the old saying of there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’ and that everyone needs to work together to win. I agree that in order to win a championship, a team needs to have an identity, work together and all that other good stuff.

But we’re not talking about Duke winning it all. 

I firmly believe that even if the Blue Devils are unable to find a team identity by the end of the regular season, they will still find themselves in March Madness simply thanks to the sheer talent of countless individuals on this team. 

I don’t anticipate this being the way the Blue Devils trickle in, though. In reality, head coach Mike Krzyzewski will mold some sort of identity for his unit and create a much more cohesive chemistry than what we’re currently seeing.

Krzyzewski has led Duke to the NCAA tournament every year since 1984, and he’s taken teams with far less talent than this year’s roster. I will note that I excluded 1995—the lone time since 1984 the Blue Devils have missed the NCAA tournament—since Krzyzewski missed 12 games due to a back injury.

Even in 1996, in the wake of that tragic 1995 campaign, Coach K led Duke to an 18-13 record and into March Madness. He’s more than capable of leading this year’s group to a rebound as well.

Ultimately, the Blue Devils are going to rattle off enough ACC wins to have a halfway decent record, and the losses they do have will be much better losses than a number of other fringe teams playing in smaller mid-major conferences.

Duke will make the NCAA tournament this season. Period.

Jake C. Piazza

Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.


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