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Column: What will it take for Duke men’s basketball to make the NCAA tournament?

Matthew Hurt scored 37 points for Duke against Louisville Saturday, but the Blue Devils still fell short.
Matthew Hurt scored 37 points for Duke against Louisville Saturday, but the Blue Devils still fell short.

Today is Feb. 28, the last day of the shortest month of the year. Ordinarily, Duke fans would be thrilled about the short wait until March.

Not this year.

For the first time in a long time, Duke is not in line for the NCAA tournament. After the Blue Devils’ crushing overtime loss to Louisville Saturday, most experts think Duke as it currently stands does not deserve a ticket to the Big Dance.

“[With] very good teams, you have to do more than just put yourself in a position to win,” sophomore forward Wendell Moore Jr. said. “You have to come out with a win.”

With just two games left in the regular season, the Blue Devils’ postseason outlook is not ideal and Duke’s lack of success begs the question: What will it take to make the tournament?

Here are the options:

Dominate the end of the regular season

In a utopia where everyone ranked above Duke in the ACC lost all their remaining games and the Blue Devils won all of theirs, Duke could shoot up to fourth in the conference standings. This would place the Blue Devils above North Carolina and Louisville and almost certainly guarantee them a spot in the tournament.

However, utopias do not exist, by definition. Even if Duke won its remaining matchups against Georgia Tech and North Carolina, its resume would likely still lack the oomph to earn admission to the NCAA tournament. But if that can’t save the Blue Devils, what will?

Make a statement in the ACC tournament

The best way for Duke to secure its spot in the Big Dance is to show out in the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C. The Blue Devils don’t necessarily have to win the ACC tournament to punch their ticket, but if they don't impress over their final two games of the regular season then they may need to reach the semifinals.

For that to happen, Duke will have to learn how to finish games, something it's struggled to do all season, including Saturday against Louisville.

“Our game boils down to that one possession,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the loss to the Cardinals. “We were able to win that possession against Virginia. We did not win that possession tonight.”

One silver lining for the Blue Devils is the growth of 6-foot-10 forward Matthew Hurt into a top-tier player in the country. Hurt played the best game of his life against Louisville, scoring a career-high 37 points on 15-of-21 shooting. Yet, Hurt hardly touched the ball in the final moments of regulation and in the overtime period.

“This is a team game, not an individual game,” Hurt said of his lack of involvement late in the contest. “It doesn’t matter that I didn’t get a lot of touches.”

It might as well have been an individual game for Duke Saturday. While Hurt had an electric performance, the rest of the team shot below 30% from the field combined.

If the Blue Devils really want a shot at an ACC tournament run—and a spot in the national tournament—someone other than Hurt will have to step up to the plate. Right now, there’s no frontrunner.

Delay the month of March

If none of the aforementioned paths turn out in Duke's favor, Blue Devil fans might be left wondering what other alternatives might be available, however drastic.

In Oct. 1793, French revolutionaries switched out the bourgeois Gregorian calendar for one of their own creation. The names of the months changed to reflect their newfound freedom and equality, as well as the days assigned to each month. For instance, the third month of the year started May 20.

Duke fans, true to their “Cameron Crazies” moniker, may be tempted to adopt a similar tactic. Changing the calendar would both push back the tournament by months and render the term “March Madness” useless, as anyone who used the term would be deemed an enemy of the people (see Law of 22 Prairal).

This is, of course, a ridiculous idea. Toppling a government for the sake of a local sports team would be petty at best and bloodthirsty at worst. It goes against everything we hold dear about this country, this institution and this sport.

But simply put, I don’t trust the Cameron Crazies. Any fan base that sleeps in tents in freezing temperatures for two months to watch their peers play basketball for two hours (every year!) must be incredibly tough, dedicated and off its rocker.

These are unfortunately excellent qualities in a revolution.

For my sake, Duke had better pull it together before the ACC tournament. Because I don’t think I can learn the names of 12 new months, especially not in French.


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