For the first time since the Internet existed, Duke Men’s Basketball failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament after an up and down 2020-21 campaign concluded with the Blue Devils unable to compete in the ACC Quarterfinal against Florida State due to COVID-19.
After finishing the regular season on a down note with three straight losses to Louisville, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina, it seemed as though Duke’s fate was sealed. That last blow-out loss to the rival Tar Heels being one of the least competitive performances Duke had mustered in many, many years.
However, back to back impressive victories against Boston College and Louisville in Greensboro at the 2021 New York Life ACC Tournament had Blue Devil players and faithful alike feeling good about a potential late run and bid for March Madness.
And then the music stopped as the program announced a positive COVID-19 test within a member of the program’s Tier 1 personnel after the win over the Cardinals.
“I feel deeply for our players, who have done a terrific job all season in taking care of each other and the team,” said Mike Krzyzewski at the time. “I am extremely proud of their collective attitudes and effort, which could not have been stronger. We are disappointed we cannot keep fighting together as a group after two outstanding days in Greensboro.”
Since the season’s end the program has experienced a fair amount of turnover. Freshmen DJ Steward (NBA), Henry Coleman (transfer to Texas A&M), and Jaemyn Brakefield (transfer to Ole Miss) all elected to move on, joining former five star teammate Jalen Johnson who had “opted out” during the middle of the conference season.
Recasting the roster for the upcoming season will be the nation’s third ranked recruiting class featuring five star prospects Paolo Banchero, AJ Griffin, and Trevor Keels along with four star point guard Jaylen Blakes. On top of that highly decorated quartet of high schoolers the Blue Devils added a pair of transfers in Theo John and Bates Jones from Marquette and Davidson respectively.
Those newcomers will team with returning veterans Joey Baker and Wendell Moore along with rising sophomores Mark Williams and Jeremy Roach to form a rotation that has many analysts expecting a return to normal (and post season play) for Duke in the coming year.
On Tuesday ESPN’s resident bracket predictions guru Joe Lunardi joined those who have the Blue Devils firmly in the post season conversation for 2021-22 when he released his latest edition of “Bracketology”.
After considering the latest news of transfers, NBA Draft decisions, and similar, Lunardi has slotted Duke as a No. 3 seed in the South Region of his mock bracket. In such a scenario the Blue Devils would see initial pod games against Wofford and then the winner of Illinois and Colorado in a projected 6/11 first round match-up. Other teams in the projected region – the South Region – would include top seeded Michigan and second seeded Alabama.
Though only a three seed, Duke is considered the top rated ACC team in Lunardi’s mock-bracket with Florida State showing up as a four seed while North Carolina is a six along with Virginia Tech. Louisville is an eight seed while Virginia is a nine. Notre Dame is projected as a 10 seed in the projection.