Duke Basketball: Why the Blue Devils Are Still the ACC Favorite

David AldridgeFeatured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2013

CORAL GABLES, FL - JANUARY 23:  Julian Gamble #45 of the Miami Hurricanes defends against a shot by Amile Jefferson #21 of the Duke Blue Devils on January 23, 2013 at the BankUnited Center in Coral Gables, Florida. Miami defeated Duke 90-63. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Before Duke fans panic because of last night's 27-point defeat against the Miami Hurricanes—and the fact that the Blue Devils have lost two of their last three games—let's take a deep breath.

While it certainly may not feel like it right now, the Duke Blue Devils are still in a great position to win the ACC. They have left themselves almost no margin for error, but Duke can still emerge as the survivor from the wreckage of this ACC regular season.

There's no disputing the fact that Mike Krzyzewski's team has struggled in its past three games, with the team's performance becoming worse with each passing game. The Blue Devils managed to beat Georgia Tech at home, but a strong case could be made that they actually played better in a loss to NC State.

However, last night's blowout against Miami offers the perfect opportunity for Coach K to refocus his team and remind them that they haven't really accomplished anything yet. For the first month of the season, Duke's players heard about how great they are and how they look like the team to beat in college basketball.

Now, Duke's players should have a very clear understanding that they are capable of getting crushed if they don't play with great effort and intensity.

As Mason Plumlee said following last night's defeat:

"There is a disconnect between how good we think we are and how good we actually are and we have to get better. That's the bottom line." - NewsObserver.com

If Mike Krzyzewski can get this group back to playing with a chip on its shoulder, they have more than enough talent to win another conference championship.

Considering that Krzyzewski is the winningest coach in the history of men's college basketball, you'd have to think he will find the keys to turning things around.

It's also important to remember that even though last night's loss was ugly, the reality is that it was still just one loss on the road against one of the ACC's stronger teams.

Duke now has a 3-2 record in the ACC, which puts them two games behind Miami, who leads the conference with a 5-0 record. Unlike NC State, who suffered a heartbreaking loss to Wake Forest, the Blue Devils have not lost to any of the teams at the bottom of the ACC standings.

Fortunately for the Blue Devils, they still get a chance to close the gap on the Hurricanes when Miami visits Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 2.

This is a time when Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee, Duke's senior leaders, can step up and remind the team that this is a long season and there is still plenty of basketball left to be played.

It's also important to remember that Miami is a team that has been wildly inconsistent this season. The team that dominated Duke in every aspect of last night's game is the same team that lost games earlier in the season to Florida Gulf Coast and Indiana State.

Following the first win over a No. 1 ranked team in the history of the program, it will be interesting to see if the Hurricanes now suffer from the NC State-syndrome. Don't be surprised to see Miami struggle in its next game, which is against in-state rival Florida State.

For the Blue Devils, the next game is an opportunity to get things turned around. Duke returns home to take on a Maryland team that has been offensively challenged of late, which should give Mike Krzyzewski and his team time to work through their defensive struggles.

Following the Maryland game, Duke will go on the road for a game they should win against Wake Forest.

The schedule sets up well for Duke to gain some momentum over the next couple of games, and then there's the possibility of Ryan Kelly returning from his foot injury. As long as they can keep themselves near the top of the ACC over the next two weeks, the Blue Devils are still in great shape to win the conference.