It’s not possible to sleep on Duke, right?

Duke is one of the biggest brands in the sport of basketball, with 5 national championships, 14 Final Fours, and a student section, the Cameron Crazies, that is a household name with its own Wikipedia entry.

We mention this to suggest that if a Duke team is flying under the radar, there’s probably a good reason for it, right?

That theory held most this season for many, until they watched Jon Scheyer’s 4th-seeded Blue Devils storm through the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in the South Region, at which point, a different question began to circulate. Is Duke underrated?

Like the similar question being bandied about regarding the 5-bid, 4-Sweet 16 team ACC, the answer is yes — Duke, like its conference, is underrated.

Is there anti-ACC bias?

Jon Rothstein doesn’t think so, but his selective “facts” conveniently omit that the ACC had a winning record against the other 5 Power 6 conferences this season, tied an in-season challenge with the 8-bid SEC, and went 9-3 (now 11-3, after 2 NCAA Tournament wins) against the Big 12, the league ranked No. 1 before the NCAA Tournament in the metrics.

Whether there is anti-Duke bias is in the eye of the beholder and often comes down to which shade of blue you prefer, but after Duke went to Brooklyn and dismantled Vermont 64-47 in the opening round and ran a 32-win James Madison team out of the gym in the Round of 32, the “underrated” label applies with aplomb, regardless of whether you bleed royal blue or a lighter color. That could be why ESPN BET has Duke as a 4.5-point underdog in Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup against Houston.

Duke is really, really good and here’s the secret just now getting out: They’ve been really, really good for at least 3 months.

The Blue Devils suffered 2 awful losses just after Thanksgiving, losing at a bad Arkansas team and compounding that defeat with a loss to a miserable Georgia Tech team in Atlanta. Those defeats dropped Duke to 5-3, and made it easy to shrug the shoulders when the Blue Devils won 11 of their next 12 to set up a top 10 battle against rival North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Feb. 3. Back on the national stage, though, the Blue Devils laid an egg, thoroughly dominated by the Tar Heels in a 93-84 loss that was less close than the score.

Even after that defeat, though, the Blue Devils won 8 of their last 10 entering the ACC Tournament, with the only defeats coming to a desperate Wake Forest in Winston-Salem and in the rematch with North Carolina in Durham. Perhaps the committee was influenced by Duke’s  end of regular-season loss to UNC and their ACC Tournament quarterfinal defeat to eventual ACC champion NC State. How else to explain a 4 seed for a team with a top 10 NET Ranking and KenPom mark entering the NCAA Tournament?

Whatever the committee’s reasoning, Duke hasn’t played like a 4 seed.

The Blue Devils’ win over Vermont showed their defensive chops and the constant improvement on that end that has spurred Duke to the Sweet 16. Duke held the Catamounts to just 25% from beyond the arc and forced 12 turnovers in a low possession (60) game. The result was Vermont’s lowest point output of the season. While that type of stifling defense might have surprised some observers who hadn’t paid Duke much mind this season, it shouldn’t have come as a shock. Duke sits 18th overall in KenPom Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, and since giving up 93 to the Tar Heels on February 3, Duke’s defense ranks 10th in the country, per Bart Torvik.

Duke’s defense dominated James Madison, too, holding the 32-win Dukes to just 22% from beyond the arc and forcing 14 turnovers, the most for the Dukes in a regulation game this season. The Blue Devils came up with 12 steals, using their ability to deny passing lanes and get tips and turning it into quick offense, storming their way to 20 fast-break points and a 38-point win.

Duke’s versatile offense showed up too, which it has all season, but the 2 wins in Brooklyn were a reminder that when Duke hits perimeter jump shots, they aren’t just Sweet 16 good — they are Final Four good.

Led by budding star Jared McCain, who hit 6 3-pointers against James Madison and became 1 of just 5 freshman ever to score 30 points and grab 5 or more rebounds in an NCAA Tournament game in the process. The others, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Zion Williamson and Tyreke Evans, are all dudes you might have heard can ball a little bit. McCain one-upped them all, though, finishing with 0 turnovers, the first time a freshman has achieved that statistical distinction since the field expanded in 1985.

Over 2 games, Duke made 44% of its 3-point attempts, and they did that despite the fact that X-factor wing Mark Mitchell didn’t take a 3 in either round. In fact, Mitchell scored just 2 points against James Madison, but he found other ways to impact winning, dishing out 4 assists and snagging 3 of Duke’s 12 steals.

McCain is the emerging freshman star and Mitchell is the X-factor, but Duke fans who have seen this team score at a top-10 efficiency rate all season know the key in big games is often sophomore guard Tyrese Proctor. A lockdown defender, Proctor is streaky offensively, and when he misses shots or is absent on offense, the backcourt burden on McCain, Mitchell, and senior point guard Jeremy Roach can be immense. Proctor was magnificent in Brooklyn on both ends, though, burying 7 3-pointers in the opening 2 rounds and providing his patented elite defense on the other end.

Duke’s anchor, Kyle Filipowski, so often called upon to carry the Blue Devils, was doubled, harassed and keyed on through 2 games in Brooklyn, scoring just 8.5 points per contest. In the end, that didn’t matter, because Duke’s supporting cast around him was elite. Filipowski can hit a 3 but is best when he operates inside the arc, commands help and can distribute to teammates. He had 8 assists over 2 games, attempting just 1 3-point shot. Content in the post, he grabbed 12 rebounds in the rout of Vermont and blocked 4 shots over the 2 wins to provide Duke stability inside.

A balanced team that can score at multiple levels and guard?

If that sounds like the Duke teams under a different head coach, it should.

“We are starting to show who we are, taking pride on defense first and sharing it and finding multiple ways to score on offense,” Scheyer beamed to the media after clinching a spot in the Sweet 16. “When we play like who we can be, together as a group, that’s a great team.”

A great one that could be one of the Final Four playing, in fact.

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