By Eugene Mulero
Just when you thought they were out, they’re doing their best to crawl back in.
Despite how badly they played early in the season and the beatdowns they’ve received in the ACC, (as expected) Duke is just not retreating quietly into that good night.
Obvi, if you’re a Duke hater, you simply hate to see their resilience. For the millions mesmerized by Dukenation, their late-season tenacity adds to the program’s prestige and amplifies the myth of Coach K.
Although they dropped their most recent outing (Louisville, 80-73), the Blue Devils had been riding high on a solid four-game winning stretch. This included a nail-biter versus ACC behemoth and 15th-ranked team in the country, Virginia (66-65, Feb. 20). Against the Cavs, Duke powerhouse forward Matthew Hurt recorded 22 pts. and grabbed four boards to help the squad lock the one-point upset. It helped that the Devils shot 50% from the floor, and their defense neutralized UVA’s role players, even as Cavs’ center Jay Huff put up a strong double-double (20 pts., 12 rbs.).
In losing to Louisville recently, Duke probably dug themselves into an almost inescapable hole. For the Cardinals, the win kind of propelled them to a tournament bid. For Duke, the defeat kept them just slightly over .500, and reinforces the notion about their inability to knock-off conference big dawgs.
Duke wraps up the season against Georgia Tech (March 2) and their rival, UNC (March 6). If Duke wins both games and don’t embarrass themselves in the conference tournament, the national tournament gods could very likely look kindly on them, and forgive Coach K for the early season horror show.
If Duke drops both matches, they’ll need to achieve the impossible (like Broadway Joe #TribeCalledQuest reference) and win the ACC tournament to lock an automatic bid to the dance. So, OK Coach K, show us what you got.
Around the ACC, the Tar Heels looked bad (that means, good) against 11th-ranked Florida State Feb. 27. UNC punked the Seminoles 78-70 thanks primarily to floor general Caleb Love, who produced valuable numbers (12 pts., 2 rbs., 2 asts.) during 31 minutes of action. Despite the win, an area of concern is the 21 turnovers the UNC guys had.
And, not to take anything away from the winners, we must point out FSU appeared slightly off. With the exception of RaiQuan Gray (17 pts., 8 rbs., 2 asts.), the Seminoles seemed out of sync and deflated. They can play way better. Up next for UNC is Syracuse March 1.
Florida State has Boston College March 3.
The Clemson Tigers are coasting on a five-game winning streak. They most recently defeated Miami (66-58, Feb. 27) to help secure an invitation to the dance. Clemson could potentially wrap up the season on a high-note with victories against Syracuse (March 3) and Pittsburgh (March 6).
With March Madness underway, them on-the-bubble teams need strong finishes. This pertains to not only Duke but the Tar Heels, as well.
Eugene Mulero is a journalist based in Fairfax, Va. Reach him at email@example.com or @cabrinilounge.