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Column: What does Duke baseball have to do to make NCAA tournament?

Duke has a tough road ahead to find a spot in the NCAA tournament, but with its remaining slate, it is still possible.
Duke has a tough road ahead to find a spot in the NCAA tournament, but with its remaining slate, it is still possible.

We’ve gotten to the part of the baseball season where things start to get extra interesting. 

Duke is sitting at 25-20 with a 13-17 ACC record, and with one series remaining, Selection Day is approaching quickly. The Blue Devils’ season hasn’t gone as expected by any means, but we are now in May and despite underachieving, Duke has a shot at making the NCAA tournament.   

But it’s not going to be easy.

What to do to finish regular season?

Ignoring the obvious automatic-bid that comes with winning the ACC tournament, Duke has its work cut out if it wants to have a resumé impressive enough to convince the committee to pencil it in, and it all starts Thursday against Clemson.

Fortunately for the Blue Devils, the Tigers are a projected tournament-team by Baseball America and D1Baseball, so playing well against Clemson would definitely be a boost. Where it gets difficult is how well Duke needs to play in this three-game series. 

Obviously, a Clemson-sweep would be ideal for head coach Chris Pollard and his squad, but that shouldn’t be necessary to keep Duke’s postseason hopes alive, nor would a sweep punch its ticket to the NCAA tournament. But what is a necessity is the Blue Devils winning their series against the Tigers, and I don’t see a lot of wiggle room in this regard. 

Duke has only won four of its 11 weekend series and its overall record is already going to be working against it when the committee takes a look at win percentage, so grabbing this last series and getting their conference record to as close to .500 as they can is crucial. If the Blue Devils fail to take at least two of three from Clemson, they’re likely looking at needing an ACC championship game appearance to at least get the committee to take a serious look. 

How well do they need to do in ACC tournament?

The ACC tournament, and I cannot stress this enough, is going to be brutal. Whichever team does come out on top will undoubtedly have the grit and experience in high-leverage situations necessary to punch its ticket to Omaha. 

For reference, the structure of the ACC tournament consists of 12 teams, and they are divided into four, three-team pools. Each team plays the other two members of its pool, and the winners move onto the single-elimination semifinal game, so whoever is the lone survivor at the end of all that will have gone through the ringer.

The talent-pool of the ACC makes almost every single one of these tournament games quality wins, and if the Blue Devils can fight their way out of their three-team pool with two wins after taking the series from Clemson, they are going to be sitting pretty on Selection Day. 

Ace up the sleeve

There is one thing I have failed to mention that plays heavily into Duke’s favor: its RPI. Right now, the Blue Devils are sitting 40th in the RPI rankings, and the 38 of the 39 teams in front of them are all projected into the NCAA tournament, according to Baseball America.

But the thing that jumps out when scrolling through the rankings is that Duke’s win percentage is significantly lower than almost all of the teams preceding it, excluding Nevada and Pittsburgh. I don’t see a huge difference in how the committee views a sweep or just a series win against Clemson at face value, but what it will influence is Duke’s overall record. 

If the Blue Devils can somehow hit 30 wins, under the prerequisite of taking at least two of three against Clemson, Duke should see its name as one of the 64. 

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