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John Gasawayespin Insider

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    • ESPN Insider sponsor of ESPN University Basketball
    • I started beating university tournaments in 2004.
    • Wrote for the Basketball Prospectus and the Wall Street Journal.

Duke’s record is now 7-7 after a 91-87 home loss against North Carolina. The team, No. 9 in the PA preseason rankings, missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995.

Can Mike Krzyzewski’s team turn the tide, even now? Let’s just say the Blue Devils are at a point where they either have to go the rest of the way or something very close.

Coach K’s team has only three games left to play against opponents who are unlikely to play in the NCAA Tournament: Virginia, Louisville and a rematch against the Tar Heels in the season finale. The games against the Cavaliers and Cardinals will be played in Durham, while the second game against UNC will be played in Chapel Hill.

Winning in all three games would certainly raise Duke’s profile a lot. But the big problem is that, at 5-5 in the CCA, the Blue Devils have shown few signs that they could pull off such a sweep.

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Of course, it’s safe to say that Duke is probably better than its record indicates: They’ve lost all five of their conference losses by seven points or less; Matthew Hurt is a good scorer at both ends of the arc (though he had a disappointing seven-point performance against North Carolina); and the Blue Devils entered the game against the Tar Heels ranked 30th by KenPom.com.

However, these summaries have not yet resulted in a win for Duke. With nine games left in the regular season, a record of just two or three games above .500 seems like a very real possibility for Duke to make the CCA tournament. The most likely scenario is that the Blue Devils must win this tournament to maintain their string of NCAA tournament appearances.

What went wrong? Duke took a step back on both sides of the ball this season. In the year that CCA had no team above third place (68), the Blue Devils could not shake off their opponents, either on offense or defense.

Error. Don’t film specified.Duke may miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995. Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP, Poole.

This team had a hard time shooting from the perimeter the rest of the season, although Duke managed to hit 11 of 25 three-pointers against North Carolina. Defensively, CCA’s opponents shoot very well from behind the basket and, most unusually, often get to the free throw line. The overall result does not look like a typical Duke team at all.

Perhaps the conventional wisdom is correct, and the demands this very unusual season places on teams are having an even greater impact on very talented but very young teams like Duke and Kentucky. Perhaps the Blue Devils did not have enough time to grow together as a team before the regular season, and now we are seeing the consequences.

On the other hand, teams like Ohio State and Michigan have changed their rotations dramatically since last season, and they are doing quite well. Similarly, Jalen Suggs and Andrew Nembhard are as new to Gonzaga as Hurt and DJ Steward are to Duke, and the Bulldogs are still undefeated.

There may be no single factor or clear explanation for Duke’s current fate. Instead, the Blue Devils may have been brought to their current state by a series of events. This time, the freshmen did not have a single top scorer who could bring the team to its knees night after night. This time, the veterans did not add Tre Jones or Grayson Allen to their ranks.

This time it looks like Duke will miss the NCAA tournament for the first time in 26 years. This is the fate of the Blue Devils unless a miracle happens, and it starts now.

Frequently asked questions

When was the last time Duke competed in the NCAA tournament?

The last time Duke did not compete in the NCAA tournament was in 1995 when a health problem kept Krzyzewski on the team’s sidelines for the final two months of the season. The Blue Devils finished 13-18, meaning only a CCAA tournament title, which never came, could earn them a spot on the court.

How many NCAA basketball championships does Duke have?

How many national championships has Duke won in basketball? The Blue Devils are blue-blooded when it comes to college basketball. Duke has won five national championships, the last in 2015.

Who else has NCAA basketball championships from Duke or UNC?

UNC is third in the column of eternal victories. Duke is ranked No. 4. Both schools have won 29 of 65 CCA tournament titles and 51 regular season crowns, participated in the Final Four 36 times and won 11 national championships.

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