When I started breaking down the NET rankings, first implemented in the 2018-19 season, the central theme tended to be how this new system would impact Duke’s pursuit of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. In this unusual year, the way Blue Devil fans need to digest these rankings is unsurprisingly flipped, with Duke finding itself fighting for an NCAA Tournament bid rather than seeding.
Why the delay in resuming this series? Quite simply, the NCAA changed where and how they make public the notorious “team sheets” (disappointingly, I find this much less accessible than previous years where the full, official team sheet was provided!). But with information in hand, we can take a look not only at how Duke’s recent winning streak has affected their NET ranking, but how the NET status of other teams might affect Duke’s resume come Selection Sunday.
Duke now is ranked No. 47 in the NET, a nine position rise after the impressive win against Syracuse last night. This includes two quadrant 1 (Q1) victories and 4 Q2 victories, but also 2 disappointing Q3 losses. But NET ranking alone hasn’t been a great predictor of at-large viability: take 2019, where NET No. 33 North Carolina State didn’t get a bid, while NET No. 73 St. John’s did.
So Duke clearly has work to do to feel secure, as the program has come accustomed, come Selection Sunday. Luckily, each of the Blue Devils’ remaining four games is an opportunity to boost its resume. The upcoming home contest against Louisville is an opportunity for a Q2 victory (Louisville’s current NET ranking is 53), while road contests against Georgia Tech (NET 49) and North Carolina (NET 33) are both Q1 opportunities.
For the scoreboard watchers among us, there are plenty of rooting interests to help boost Duke’s profile. Notre Dame currently sits at NET 66, meaning Duke’s road victory over the Fighting Irish is barely a Q1 win. Duke fans should thus be rooting for Notre Dame to win and stay in the NET Top 75. NC State finds itself ranked at NET 80, meaning that if the Wolfpack get hot down the stretch and squeak into the Top 75, Duke’s road victory would be another Q1 win. On the flip side, Duke’s resume would be boosted if it could eliminate the blemishes represented by their Q3 losses. Michigan State is currently NET 81, meaning some late season wins by the Spartans (as much as it pains me to advocate for that!) could move that game into the Q2 category. Unfortunately, Miami sneaking inside the NET 135 (the borderline for a road Q2 game) is more of a longshot, as the Hurricanes are currently ranked at NET 162.
Finally, what other teams are competing for one of the final at-large bids that Duke hopes to grab? According to BracketMatrix.com, which averages out the projections of a wide range of “Bracketologists”, the current “Last 4 In” are St. Bonaventure, Minnesota, Colorado State, and Connecticut. Teams ahead of Duke on the outside looking in include Wichita State, Stanford, St. Louis, and Richmond. Obviously, Blue Devil fans should be rooting for all of these schools to falter.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on the B1G, particularly Indiana and Maryland. Given the strength of that conference, the trio of Indiana, Maryland and Minnesota could potentially fall quickly if they can’t find victories against the quality competition in the conference down the stretch. As counterintuitive is it is, Duke fans likely want to root against big upsets in the B1G so that these schools start falling down the rankings.