March Madness truly gets wild for the Cameron Crazies.
Duke has captured six of the last 10 ACC championships and is in a good position to add another to its conference-leading 19 titles. Of those six conference championships, though, only one has resulted in a national title (2010).
So what’s this all mean? The Blue Devils have their sights set on winning the NCAA Tournament, not just the ACC championship.
Duke has won the conference title in three of the four seasons it ended up winning the NCAA tournament. It was runner-up, to North Carolina, during the season it won another (1991).
That’s something to think about as March draws closer. While an ACC championship doesn’t guarantee the Blue Devils a national championship, it does help show that late-season success reigns supreme in college basketball.
If Duke struggles in the conference tournament, those struggles may persist and ultimately result in their dismissal from the big tourney.
There is some stiff competition from Duke's peers this year, too, as the 2013 college basketball season has proved to be full of surprises. Let’s take a quick look at a ranking of the top teams who might knock the Blue Devils off in their quest to add a 20th ACC title to their rafters.
1. Miami Hurricanes
Saying that the Miami Hurricanes are having an unprecedented season would be a true understatement. The school is ranked No. 8 (as of Feb. 4) in the AP Top 25 rankings, the highest they have ever been in school history.
Well, how did they get there? They’ve surprised by posting a 10-0 record (through Feb. 9) in ACC competition, including a dominant win over Duke (90-63), a road edging of N.C. State (79-78) and two wins over North Carolina.
That blowout of Duke, by the way, was the third-largest margin of victory over a No. 1-ranked team in history. It was also Duke’s biggest margin of defeat in a regular-season game since 1984.
2. North Carolina State Wolfpack
The North Carolina State Wolfpack, who returned four starters from last season, were preseason favorites to win the conference during the preseason. However, inconsistency has plagued them and they have vastly underperformed for much of the year.
Overall the Wolfpack are just 5-5 in conference play and have a 16-7 overall record as Feb. 9.
Despite their struggles at times, N.C. State has played remarkably at others, including a convincing 84-76 upset of the then-No. 1-ranked Blue Devils.
Duke got its revenge, of course, in a 98-85 home victory over the Wolfpack on Feb. 7. That sets up a potential grudge match in the conference tournament that could go either way.
3. North Carolina Tar Heels
Duke and North Carolina may be one of the best rivalries in sports, not just in college basketball. The two teams play each other increasingly tough with each contest, and that should never be taken lightly, no matter how much better one team is perceived to be than the other.
The Tar Heels haven’t had an ideal season this year, losing several games already to this point. That can be attributed to struggles in replacing NBA departures Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Kendall Marshall.
Still, the team is sitting fourth in the ACC rankings with a 6-4 record in conference play and 16-7 overall mark (as of Feb. 9). Last year the Tar Heels scored a win over the Blue Devils to clinch the top spot in the ACC at the end of the regular season.