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Now one game behind Virginia and North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings, Duke needs some help to finish with its first regular season conference championship since 2010. The Blue Devils would have to win out in their next three games, including a win over UNC, and have Virginia lose one more game to either Pitt or Louisville at home or Syracuse on the road. Neither of those three are likely to happen, but Duke can still position itself as a No. 2 seed if it wins out.
RACE FOR EAST TOP SEED
Duke is now battling UNC and Virginia for the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament’s East region, which takes place in Washington on March 29 and 31.
UVA is almost certainly the favorite to end up there right now, but the Blue Devils could usurp the Cavaliers with a win over UNC to end the regular season and a strong performance in the ACC Tournament in Charlotte.
The first- and second-round destination is a little dicey, as Columbia, South Carolina is the most desirable place to play for any team in the Carolinas — and it’s possible that Duke and UNC would share the coliseum. That’s never a good sign for Duke, as there are many more UNC fans in the area and they typically love to stay and cheer against their rivals in postseason play.
Other possible destinations for the first two rounds are Hartford, Connecticut, Salt Lake City, Utah, Des Moines, Iowa, Jacksonville, Florida, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Columbus, Ohio or San Jose, California.
Zion Williamson has now missed three games (basically the whole UNC game, but who’s counting), and Duke is 1-2 without him.
Anytime a team loses a National Player of the Year frontrunner, it’s going to be a setback. But the loss of Williamson has shined a light on just how thin Duke’s roster is this season outside of its core starters.
The 6-foot-7, 285-pound Williamson plugs so many holes defensively, and can score from just about anywhere on the court, that Duke is now fighting tooth and nail just to manufacture a road win over Syracuse and needed a Herculean effort from RJ Barrett in the second half to take Virginia Tech down to the wire.
Getting Williamson back for Saturday’s home game against Miami would be a huge boost to a Duke team that is trying to find a new identity as it chases a No. 1 seed in both the ACC and NCAA tournaments.
PRODUCTION OUTSIDE BIG THREE
Tre Jones is starting to become a liability on the offensive side of the ball scoring-wise as teams have slacked off him in the halfcourt and allowed him space to shoot from the perimeter.
Jones’ 24.6 percent shooting from 3-point range is even worse than Jack White, who has missed 28 three-pointers in a row. Jones has made more than one three-pointer in a game just twice this season, and hasn’t done it since the San Diego State game in Nov. 2018.
Besides Barrett, Cam Reddish and Williamson, Duke has gotten barely any production from its role players other than Jones and Marques Bolden on occasion.
ROUGH SIX-GAME STRETCH COMPLETE
In one of the tougher six-game stretches that any team will face this season, Duke came out of it 4-2 with wins at Virginia, at Louisville, NC State and at Syracuse (away) while dropping games to North Carolina at home and at Virginia Tech.
To do all that while missing one of the best players in the sport of college basketball in Williamson for three of the games is even more impressive.
SPRING PRACTICE STARTS FRIDAY
Replacing a starting quarterback, its entire linebacking corps and a number of key players on both sides of the ball, Duke will start spring practice Friday with a battle at the most important position on the field between quarterbacks Quentin Harris, Chris Katrenick and Gunnar Holmberg.
THREE BLUE DEVILS AT NFL COMBINE
Duke has three former players in the NFL combine this year, the most in recent memory, with linebacker Joe Giles-Harris, tight end Daniel Helm and quarterback Daniel Jones all taking part in this week’s action.
Adam Rowe covers Duke basketball, football and recruiting for 247Sports.com. Check out more of his work at duke.247sports.com.