Friday, February 9, 2007

No NCAAs for Duke?

CBS Sportline writers are always stirring the pot to piss people off. But no way Duke misses NCAAs.

If K's crew has more L's than W's in ACC, NCAAs might not call

Mike Krzyzewski has an amazing number of philosophies on life and basketball, many of which apply to both. Of them all, the one that stands out most at this moment is to never get too high or too low and always focus on moving forward.

I agree with that philosophy.

Seems like a reasonable way to live.

So I'm forgetting Duke's loss to North Carolina.

That's old news, and it's time to focus on moving forward.

"We don't have time to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves," is what freshman Jon Scheyer said after Duke squandered a double-digit lead in the second half Wednesday to lose 79-73.

And you know what?

He's exactly right. That the Blue Devils have dropped three consecutive games for the first time in nearly eight years isn't as much of a concern as is the fact that Duke's remaining schedule isn't favorable for a team needing victories to ensure an NCAA Tournament appearance.

In other words, if Duke isn't careful it could spend Selection Sunday on the bubble.

It's a wild proposition, I know, this being Duke and all. But the reality is the Blue Devils awoke Thursday owners of a shaky 18-6 record that includes as many ACC wins (five) as ACC losses (five) with only seven regular season games remaining.

The remaining games are:

A non-conference road game at St. John's (Feb. 25)

Two ACC home games against Georgia Tech (Feb. 18) and Maryland (Feb. 28).

Four ACC road games at Maryland (Sunday), at Boston College (Feb. 14), at Clemson (Feb. 22) and at North Carolina (March 4).

Now let's take an honest look at the remaining schedule, guess how things might unfold.

The non-conference game: Duke is superior to St. John's, a team that is just 14-10 after holding on Wednesday to edge South Florida. Granted, the Red Storm have beaten Notre Dame and Syracuse at home. But they shouldn't beat Duke. So pencil this in as a win.

The ACC home games: In a normal season it'd be easy to also pencil these in as wins, but this isn't a normal season. Duke has already lost at home to Virginia Tech, Florida State and North Carolina. So also losing to Georgia Tech and/or Maryland isn't impossible, particularly given the Blue Devils have already lost at Georgia Tech. Regardless, be generous and put both these games down as wins, too.

The ACC road games: This is where things get tricky. It seems silly to suggest Duke could lose all four, but the truth is the Blue Devils haven't beaten an NCAA Tournament-caliber team on the road to date. They lost at Georgia Tech last month and at Virginia last week. So asking Duke to win at Maryland, at Boston College, at Clemson or at North Carolina is asking it to do something it hasn't done all season. Still, for argument's sake, take the Blue Devils to steal one of the four, perhaps at Maryland (where a 15-loss Miami team has already won).

(Deep breath)

So the assumption here is Duke sweeps Georgia Tech and Maryland at home, wins at St. John's and loses three of its four ACC road games. Add it up and that's a 22-9 overall record, 8-8 in the ACC, which would likely place Duke anywhere from fifth to seventh in the ACC.

Under that scenario, I suspect the Blue Devils will be fine. But anything less than 3-3 in the remaining six ACC games means Duke will end the regular season with a losing league record, and history suggests a losing league record greatly diminishes the chances of making the NCAA Tournament.

Consider: In the past eight seasons 12 ACC teams finished with 7-9 league records, or one game below .500. Only two of those 12 (16.7 percent) made the NCAA Tournament. In the same span six ACC teams finished with 8-8 league records, or at .500. Four of those six (66.7 percent) made the NCAA Tournament.

Bottom line, 8-8 is probably good enough.

But 7-9 just might not be.

So that's what's facing Duke heading into the weekend. And it's a good thing the Blue Devils have a coach who tells them to always focus on moving forward, because pulling this off will take every bit of focus they can muster.