It will not be a clear path to the Final Four by no means for the Duke Blue Devils. After earning a No. 2 seed in this year's NCAA tournament—and deservingly so—the Blue Devils were placed in the Midwest Region along with the No. 1 overall seed Louisville Cardinals and No. 3 seed Michigan State Spartans.
Despite compiling the best resume in college basketball this season, the selection committee felt as if Duke needed to prove its worth once again.
As we are just days away from Duke's opening round matchup against the No. 15 seed Albany Great Danes, I have amassed bracket predictions from a who's who of college basketball insiders and experts.
While there is a decent chance the Blue Devils can get back to the Final Four, many feel they will come up just short in their quest.
Only time will tell.
With Ryan Kelly back into the fold for Duke after missing time due to an injured right foot, the Blue Devils championship hopes are alive and well. It adds another reliable three-point shooter, while also giving more room for Mason Plumlee to operate down low.
And that is mainly why Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy lists Duke as one of his "10 contenders" to challenge for a title:
Why they could win it: With Kelly back in the rotation, the Blue Devils are one of the most explosive offenses. They are dependent on the three-point shot but have three players (Kelly, Sulaimon, Seth Curry) capable of getting 30 on any night and four starters dangerous from long distance.
With Kelly to draw opposing power forwards away from the goal, Plumlee gets far more space to operate and his athleticism makes it a challenge for opposing big men to deal with. Kelly and Plumlee both are capable of blocking shots.
But then again, Duke's defense is still lacking in consistency even with the return of Kelly—which could potentially be the Blue Devils undoing as DeCourcy mentions.
Why they might not: The Devils' struggle to contain Dez Wells underscored their weakness against attacking perimeter players. Wells is a talent but only topped 20 points twice in the previous 14 games; the Devils allowed him to go Kobe on them.
Plumlee is especially overpowering against smaller centers, and there are a lot of those. Against players his size, though, he often struggles. He might still post numbers but his impact diminishes, and in games so hotly contested that lack of impact can be decisive.
A national championship is possible, though an early exit from the tournament is realistic.
Duke and Louisville met for the Battle 4 Atlantis championship earlier this season. On that night, the Blue Devils walked away victorious 76-71 while looking like the best team in the country.
Once the NCAA tournament brackets were revealed, a lot of eyes were placed on the Midwest Region and the possible rematch in the Elite Eight between these two teams.
It's a popular matchup to pick. And while the consensus have placed the role of championship favorite onto Louisville, its path to the Final Four will most likely include a meeting with the Blue Devils.
Which is what NBC Sports' Rob Dauster expects to see:
The Elite 8 matchup is…?: No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 2 Duke
I know, I know, I know. That’s kind of a copout. But the bottom-line is that Louisville, as of right now, is the best team in the country. Their defense is simply overwhelming, especially now that Kevin Ware is playing like the top 50 recruit that he was coming out of high school. And with Peyton Siva doing his now-normal March takeover while Russ Smith has continued his evolution into (gasp!) an efficient scorer, the Cardinals are dangerous.
But the Blue Devils also happen to be the same Blue Devils that beat Louisville out in the Bahamas back in November when everyone thought Duke was the best team in the country. Ryan Kelly is back in the lineup, which has helped turn Mason Plumlee back into a force in the paint, while Seth Curry’s leg should be feeling pretty good as the loss to Maryland in the ACC tournament saved him from a rough, three-games-in-three-days stretch.
The difference here? That dude Gorgui Dieng (maybe you’ve heard of him) is healthy now.
Sure, Duke was disappointing in the ACC tournament. One game, one loss. They deserved to lose to Maryland in the quarterfinals.
But, don't judge the Blue Devils off of that one game. As Yahoo! Sports' Pat Forde briefly explains in his latest installment of "Forde Minutes," Duke is still a likely championship contender:
Duke (10). Don't read too much into the Blue Devils' ACC tourney loss to desperate Maryland. They're still 18-1 with Ryan Kelly in the lineup, and this team surely learned some valuable lessons from the comeuppance against Lehigh last year.
Not to mention, the man at the helm of this program has won a few big games.
Mike Krzyzewski (37), Duke. Titles won: 1991, '92, 2001, 2010. All at Duke. Chances of another one this year: Decent.
There is still a lot to like about this team. With that being said, whatever you do, don't discount Duke.
Staying the course with Yahoo! Sports, the job of filling out brackets have been completed by its four college basketball experts.
Coincidentally, all four have Duke as the lone No. 2 seed that fail to reach the Final Four in Atlanta, Ga.
Here is a quick rundown of where each expert envisions the Blue Devils finishing.
Jeff Eisenberg: Sweet 16, No. 3 Michigan State defeats No. 2 Duke
Brad Evans: Second Round, No. 7 Creighton defeats No. 2 Duke
Pat Forde and Dan Wetzel: Elite Eight, No. 1 Louisville defeats No. 2 Duke
While Eisenberg, Forde and Wetzel opt for the two most popular games in which Duke could take a loss, Evans goes for the bracket-busting third round upset at the hands of the Doug McDermott-led Bluejays.
If that game does materialize, it's one not to be overlooked by the Cameron Crazies.
Over at CBS Sports, 12 of the very best experts in the country revealed their NCAA tournament brackets to the viewing public.
While Duke didn't end up in the championship column in any of these brackets, nine of the 12 experts went chalk by picking the No. 1 overall seed Louisville Cardinals.
In any case, let's take a quick glance at where the Blue Devils championship aspirations ended in these brackets.
Gary Parrish, Gregg Doyel, Jeff Goodman, Peter Tiernan, Jeff Borzello, Wally Szczerbiak, Pete Gillen and Alaa Abdelnaby: Elite Eight, No. 1 Louisville defeats No. 2 Duke
Matt Norlander, Jerry Palm, Dennis Dodd and Mateen Cleaves: Sweet 16, No. 3 Michigan State defeats No. 2 Duke
Again, it's a tough road for the Blue Devils. However, Louisville and Michigan State are faced with a similar path.
But, one of these three teams will represent the Midwest Region in the 2013 Final Four.
Respected ESPN journalist Dana O'Neill broke down the Midwest Region upon the revealing of the NCAA tournament bracket.
Included in her preview is the 10 biggest impressions, the five players to watch and three possible matchups we could see down the road.
Thoughts on Duke? Here you go:
Plenty thought Duke deserved to be on the No. 1 seed line, with its powerful strength of schedule and gaudy record with Ryan Kelly in the lineup. Instead, the Blue Devils fell to a No. 2, and while many will argue what's the big deal, Duke fans might know the difference. This will be the fifth time the Devils earned a 2-seed. In the previous four, they made it out of the first weekend only once and never beyond the Sweet 16.
Facts are facts. The No. 2 seed has not been kind to the Blue Devils in recent years.
Who is Duke's key player? I'll give you a guess. It's a senior.
Seth Curry, Duke: Speaking of the Curry family, little brother isn't too shabby, either. The Duke early talk was all about Mason Plumlee playing like a player of the year candidate. Fair enough. The late talk was all about the return of Ryan Kelly. Fair enough. In between, it's been Curry who has held the Blue Devils together. Despite a gimpy leg that won't be right until the season is over, Curry is averaging 17 points per game.
And it wouldn't be a Midwest Region preview without a short breakdown of the potential rematch between Duke and Louisville.
Duke vs. Louisville: The two teams already tangoed once this season, at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, a taut fight where neither team led by more than four points in the final 10 minutes. The caveat: The Cardinals were without Gorgui Dieng, who sat out with an injured wrist. Without Dieng to get in his way, Plumlee had 16 points and seven rebounds. This could be fun with both teams at full strength.
All food for thought for what should be the most exciting NCAA tournament in years.