Duke enters the ACC title game primed to be a popular NCAA tournament dark horse

The Blue Devils will likely be a No. 4 or 5 seed on Selection Sunday

Duke forward Mark Mitchell (25) celebrates late during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Miami at the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Friday, March 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Duke and Mark Mitchell have won eight consecutive games heading into the title game of the ACC tournament. (AP/Chuck Burton)

Duke is looking like a popular pick to make it to the Sweet 16 and beyond in many people’s brackets.

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

Duke got at least 13 points from four of its five starters and freshman reserve Daria Whitehead scored 16 as the Blue Devils kept the Hurricanes at bay throughout the second half. Duke will play Virginia in Saturday's ACC tournament title game. Virginia rolled over Clemson, 76-56, in the other semifinal game later on Friday night.

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Duke’s presence in the title game isn’t a surprise; the Blue Devils were the betting favorite to win the ACC tournament for a reason. But a big part of that reason was the Blue Devils’ popularity. And that popularity along with Duke’s recent run and likely spot somewhere as a No. 4 or No. 5 seed will make it a trendy pick to advance far into the NCAA tournament.

It wasn’t a great start to Jon Scheyer’s first season as Duke’s coach after taking over for Mike Krzyzewski. Duke lost to Wake Forest and NC State by double digits before losing to Clemson by three to fall to 4-3 in the ACC. 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.

Things have taken off since that Virginia loss, however. 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 victory on Saturday. A hot team with name recognition that isn’t a top-three seed is a tempting option for many tournament pool entrants.

But there are a couple of reasons to be wary about taking Duke to advance, too. Miami was the first ranked team Duke has beaten in its win streak and the Blue Devils are an extremely young team. While they’re especially talented — Whitehead, Kyle Filipowski and Dereck Lively are all top-40 picks in Krysten Peek’s latest mock draft — youth can show up at inopportune times at the NCAA tournament. Last season’s Final Four appearance was the first for Duke since the team won it all in 2015.