Duke basketball is in a dangerously familiar spot at this time of the year.
The Duke basketball program has now ranked No. 9 in the AP Preseason Top 25 Poll three times in history as of Monday. And the previous instance before this year was last year.
As we all know, the 2020-21 campaign didn’t turn out so well for the Duke Blue Devils. The freshman-heavy collection finished 13-11 and became the program’s first team since the mostly Mike Krzyzewski-less 1994-95 bunch to fall short of an NCAA Tournament bid.
Yet over on the other end of the spectrum, we could look back at the last and only additional time before 2020-21 when Duke entered a season at precisely No. 9 in the country. That was in advance of the 2009-10 journey. To jog your memory, those Blue Devils wound up No. 3 in the final AP Poll and then won the whole shebang at both the ACC Tournament and Big Dance.
Now, superstitiously speaking and based on the small sample size above, one could look at a No. 9 start as either a good or bad omen. However, there may be others who would choose to average out the pair of past extremes and say any concocted prophetic meaning is effectively neutral or nullified — whatever that would mean.
Superstitious worries about Duke basketball votes from the ACC media
Transitioning from the national conversation, media voters again may not be doing the Blue Devils any favors by predicting a No. 1 finish in the ACC — with 47 of the 81 first-place votes — as the conference announced on Tuesday. They pre-crowned Duke to finish No. 1 in six of the past eight seasons as well, and the school hasn’t once finished atop the standings during this span.
Moving on, let’s talk about the media’s selection of Duke basketball freshman forward Paolo Banchero as the ACC Preseason Player of the Year — and Rookie of the Year — which the conference also revealed on Tuesday. He ended up on the Preseason All-ACC First Team, too, of course, while teammates Mark Williams and Wendell Moore landed on the Second Team.
Well, in the eyes of recent Duke basketball history, the Banchero hype also presents a mixed bag.
This century, a Blue Devil has been the ACC Preseason Player of the Year eight times, counting this year. Of the previous seven instances, only two of those forecasted award recipients took home the actual hardware in the end: Shane Battier in 2000-01 and JJ Redick in 2005-06.
But also of the previous seven instances, all but two — Grayson Allen in 2016-17 and Chris Duhon in 2002-03 — at least captured All-ACC First Team honors.
On the note of actual ACC POY winners, six Blue Devils this century have earned that title after someone else was the predicted winner. Three were in the past four years: Marvin Bagley in 2017-18, Zion Williamson in 2018-19, and Tre Jones in 2019-20.
Furthermore, in 2010-11, Duke basketball treasure Nolan Smith became the real ACC POY after teammate Kyle Singler had been the preseason pick. In other words, we shouldn’t count out Mark Williams or another Blue Devil to spring an upset over Paolo Banchero and other ACC stars in this regard.
So altogether, is Duke overrated, underrated, or correctly rated?
Look, there’s an argument for any answers, which we’ve been dissecting here at Ball Durham throughout the offseason.
And we’ll continue to examine the outlook in various capacities, including predictions for every game on the schedule, as Duke prepares for its season opener on Nov. 9 against No. 10 Kentucky at the Champions Classic in Madison Square Garden.