Duke’s season unraveled in a hurry on Thursday when a positive COVID-19 test forced the Blue Devils out of the ACC Tournament, prompting athletic director Kevin White to declare the team’s season was over. But it’s possible talk of Duke’s demise was premature.
ESPN on Saturday reported that Duke could play in next week’s NCAA Tournament if selected as an at-large team or as an alternate, contrary to what White said Thursday. Duke was not in Jerry Palm’s projected bracket at the time it withdrew from the ACC Tournament, and it likely needed to win out, but it was approaching an interesting bubble resume with consecutive postseason wins over Boston College and Louisville.
Even if Duke is not one of the 68 teams in the field, this year, unlike others, could provide a backdoor for the program to sneak in. Because of concerns related to COVID, the selection committee this season will name four replacement teams — which would in essence be the 69th, 70th, 71st and 72nd teams — that would slot in to the bracket should one of the other 68 teams be forced to withdraw from the field.
So while Duke may ultimately be left out of the initial field, being named an alternate would at least leave the possibility open of inclusion if a team has to withdraw from the field during the 48-hour window in which teams may be replaced. As it stands now, however, Duke’s streak of 24 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances appears to be coming to an end.