Duke is in need of a swagger boost.
They aren’t talented enough to simply mow down all opposition in their path—everyone who witnessed North Carolina dominate them for 78 minutes knows this. But the Blue Devils are still a ball club capable of cutting down the nets in the Big Dance. In order to do that, though, they must first cut down the nets in the ACC tournament.
Five times since 2003, the Blue Devils (26-5) were beaten in the regular-season finale by the rival Tar Heels and then went on to win the ACC Tournament. It happened last year, and they hope it happens again this weekend.
Coach K’s crew can’t possibly go into the NCAA tournament with a loss under their belt. They just allowed the Tar Heels to beat them down 88-70 in their own house, on Senior Night no less. If the Blue Devils fail to put together a string of wins and crown themselves ACC tournament champs, they’ll enter the Big Dance with absolutely zero momentum.
And Duke needs the momentum and the confidence a conference title would result in. Sure, Austin Rivers has enough confidence to share with the entire nation, but suffering yet another loss will wear on the young players' psyches. Losing to UNC once again would be absolutely disastrous.
Failing to take care of business against a team that you’re superior to is a major letdown. But being unable to defeat a team that you’re not supposed to be able to knock off is far worse.
It brands that expectation of failure into an athlete’s brain—the fulfilled prophecy that they just aren’t good enough to pull it off. And once an athlete enters competition expecting to lose, victory is hopeless.
If the Blue Devils are met with a loss in the ACC tournament, their swagger will be scarred beyond repair in time for the NCAA tournament.
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.
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