Duke Basketball: How Badly Do the Blue Devils Need an ACC Title

Chad LykinsFeatured ColumnistFebruary 19, 2013

DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 13:  Mason Plumlee #5 of the Duke Blue Devils shoots a free throw during their game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 13, 2013 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

This doesn't happen often, folks. In fact, it'll be the first time in 10 seasons that this feat has been accomplished which hasn't included the names, Duke or North Carolina, in association. 

The Miami Hurricanes will win the ACC regular season championship outright. 

Within the past few days, Miami has been able to extend their lead to three and a half games over the Duke Blue Devils after securing their 12th and 13th conference victories at Clemson and against Virginia with five games to play, as Duke found themselves on the losing end for just the third time this season against Maryland in their most recent outing.

While the odds of Miami suffering a catastrophic collapse to end the season are considerably low, Duke will now set their sights on the ACC Tournament, in which they have garnered tremendous success by winning 10 of the last 14. 

The Blue Devils will likely enter this year's event as either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed, depending on how they finish the season, which most notably includes a road meeting at Virginia and rematches against the aforementioned Miami and arch-rival North Carolina. Their road to the ACC Tournament championship involves some uncertainty, for now, as the seeding will likely change from now until the start of the tournament due to the closeness in separation between the teams that are currently second through 12th.  

In any regard, Duke not only needs to display a strong showing, they also must win.

Conference tournaments carry a great deal of weight when determining the seeding in the NCAA Tournament. As it stands, Duke is currently projected as the final 1-seed in Joe Lunardi's latest Bracketology. However, they are on the cusp of approaching 2-seed territory, with teams such as Gonzaga and Michigan State—both are ranked above Duke in this week's Top 25—nipping at their heels. 

By remaining persistent in their final six games and adding a 20th ACC Tournament championship to their conference-leading tally, Duke will figure to be a safe bet for a 1-seed in this year's NCAA Tournament regardless of what happens around the country. 

The higher the seed, the better the probability of making a deep run.

However, in a season full of parity between the top teams in the country, not one of those teams will be able to avoid the possibility of a potential season-ending upset in this year's tournament. 

Traditionally, 1-seeds are placed on a clear and advantageous path to reach the Final Four. In the last 10 years, the Blue Devils have triumphed in the ACC Tournament and earned a 1-seed four different times, all occurring in the same season. However, they were only successful once in reaching the Final Four, in 2010—eventually winning their fourth championship—while suffering Sweet 16 losses in 2005, 2006 and 2011. 

While there has been no clear-cut championship favorite in the college basketball landscape at any point this season, Duke has been discussed, along with at least 20 other teams, as a team who could play their way into this year's Final Four. 

Of course, for the Blue Devils, their tournament success hinges on the return of senior forward Ryan Kelly. Kelly remains sidelined with a right foot injury but is targeting a return just prior to the ACC Tournament. 

With Kelly, Duke is as good as anybody in the nation, with great balance on either end of the floor. Without him they are considerably flawed, though still a respectable basketball team. 

As championship No. 5 continues to hang in the balance for the Blue Devils, their path to reach that ultimate goal will begin with the ACC Tournament championship.

From there on out, a generous Selection Sunday consisting of a high 1-seed and favorable matchups will present the fundamental blueprint to national championship glory.