Overall Record: 23-8
Conference Record: 11-7
Biggest Wins: UNC (86-78), @ UVA (65-55), FSU (75-70)
Worst Losses: NC State (84-82), @ Virginia Tech (88-75), @ Syracuse (78-75)
Key Players: Luke Kennard, Jayson Tatum, Grayson Allen
Chance of Making the NCAA Tournament: 100%
Duke was highly praised coming into this season. They had a monster recruiting class with four five-star recruits (Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, Frank Jackson, and Marques Bolden) and were ranked as the preseason #1 team in the nation. They were also picked to finish first in the ACC, and were tapped as the favorite to win the national championship. In fact coming into the season the biggest question about Duke was if they would run the table or not. Boy, things couldn’t have gone more wrong.
Duke lost their third game of the season to Kansas, however they then rattled off ten straight wins to finish the non-conference schedule with a 12-1 record and good wins over Florida and Michigan State. However in Duke’s last non-con game, a rather tight 72-61 win over Elon, Grayson Allen couldn’t contain himself and tripped Elon player Steven Santa Ana. Because of this, he received a technical foul and a one game suspension. In the next game, their ACC opener at Virginia Tech, an Allen-less Duke team was blown out by the Hokies 89-75. One can speculate that it was this loss that convinced Coach K to have an abrupt mid-season back surgery that left assistant coach Jeff Capel in charge of the team.
Capel would be unsuccessful, going 4-3 during his stretch as acting head coach with losses to FSU, Louisville, and to ACC bottom-feeder NC State at Cameron Indoor. However, with K back on the sidelines for the Pitt game on February 4th it seemed that Duke was ready to finally become the team everyone had thought they would be. Duke won five straight games after K’s return, including a win over UNC. It seemed that Duke had finally figured it out. In fact, they had not. Duke finished the season going 1-3, with road losses to Syracuse, Miami, and the ACC regular season champion Tar Heels.
The Blue Devils just never seemed to develop a good team chemistry. They only average 13 assists per game (Carolina averages close to 18) and have just not seemed to click as a team yet. This is mostly due to injuries. Harry Giles, the #1 overall power forward in the 2016 recruiting class, has only averaged twelve minutes per game and a paltry 4.3 ppg. The #2 center in the 2016 recruiting class, Marques Bolden, has averaged just seven minutes per game and 1.8 ppg. In fact, Luke Maye has scored more points this season than Bolden and Giles combined (136 compared to 123). It is still truly a mystery as to why five star big men want to go to Duke.
However, don’t let their struggles fool you, Duke is a very dangerous team. Their leading scorer and first-team all ACC player Luke Kennard averages 20.1 ppg and shoots 45% from three point range and close to 51% overall. He’s a great player that has gone for 20 and 28 points against the Heels this year. Jayson Tatum is also a good player, he’s averaging 16 ppg and 7.3 rebounds per game. Grayson Allen also cannot be overlooked. His performance hasn’t been as good this year as it was last year, he went from averaging 21.6 ppg last year to averaging just 14.5 this year, however he is still a good player.
One thing of note is that Duke is on the same side of the bracket as Carolina. Duke is a five seed in the tournament meaning that they will have to play four games if they go all the way to the ACC championship, instead of three theoretically for the Heels. They will have to beat the winner of Clemson vs. NC State on Wednesday, and if they win they’ll have to beat fourth seeded Louisville on Thursday in the quarterfinals. Duke beat Clemson by only two points at home a few weeks ago, and they lost to both NC State and Louisville this season. However, if both Duke and Carolina make it to the semifinals then it’ll be the Battle of the Blues: ACC Tournament Edition.
Duke will begin action in the second round on Wednesday against the winner of NC State/Clemson at 2:00 pm EST on ESPN. It should be of note that Duke has finished outside the top four of the ACC for two straight seasons in a row, Duke had only ever finished once outside of the top four in the ACC (they finished 6th in 2005-06) since 2000 before the last two seasons.