Duke Enters ACC Title Game Being Popular NCAA Tournament Dark Horse

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Duke and Mark Mitchell have won eight consecutive games en route the ACC tournament title. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Duke is looking like a popular pick for many making it into the sweet 16 and beyond bracket.

The ACC tournament favorites advanced the conference title game with an 85–78 win over No. 1 seed Miami on Friday night. Duke entered as the No. 4 seed after finishing one game behind the Hurricanes in the ACC standings.

Duke got at least 13 points in four of his five starts and freshman reserve Daria Whitehead scored 16 as the Blue Devils kept the Hurricanes at bay in the second half. Duke will play the winner of Virginia versus Clemson in Saturday’s ACC tournament title game.

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Duke’s presence in the title game is no surprise; They were the favorites win the ACC Tournament for a reason. But a big reason for this was the popularity of the Blue Devils. And Duke’s recent run and popularity along with a potential spot as a No. 4 or No. 5 seed will make them a trendy pick moving into the NCAA tournament.

Jon Scheyer’s first season as Duke coach after replacing Mike Krzyzewski didn’ get off a good start. Duke lost to Wake Forest and NC State by points before losing three Clemson in the ACC to go 4–3. And back-to-back losses to Miami and Virginia dropped Duke to 8–6 in conference play at one point. That Miami loss was brutal, too. Duke lost by 23 and was uncompetitive for the entire game.

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However, things have drifted away since the loss Virginia. Duke enters the ACC title game on an eight-game win streak and could enter the NCAA Tournament on a nine-game win streak with a win on Saturday. A hot team with name recognition that isn’ a top-three seed is an attractive option for many tournament pool entrants.

But there are some reasons for Duke be careful going forward as well. Miami was the first ranked team that Duke had beaten on their winning streak, and the Blue Devils are an extremely young team. While they’re particularly talented — Whitehead, Kyle Filipowski and Derek Lively are all top-40 picks in Kristen Peake’s latest mock draft — youngsters can show up at inopportune times in the NCAA tournament. Last season’s Final Four appearance was the first for Duke since the team won it all in 2015.