Sorry, Duke Won't Win the National Title


God it sucks writing that headline. I hope I’m wrong. I often am, but I’ve seen all 34 Duke games this season and while I’ve seen some good things this season, I have not seen a championship caliber team.

Hell, Coach K said it himself when he said that this squad was a “good team, but not a great team.” Good teams don’t win titles, great ones do.

So how did I come to this conclusion?I got seven reasons why Duke won’t win it.

The Blue Devils just do not have the quickness and athleticism to keep a quick guard from penetrating into the lane. They just don’t. Jon Scheyer, for all his skills, doesn’t have the ability to shut down speed. The irony is, because so many of these type of guards left the ACC this past off-season to head to the NBA, Duke wasn’t exposed that much this season. Not a lot of ACC teams had the kind of personal to take advantage of this weakness.

Yet, some did. Remember back to the Wisconsin loss? Trevon Hughes, the Badger’s speedy senior guard abused the Devils. He scored 26 on 9-16 shooting. He did that without even attempting a three-point shot.

In Duke’s lose to NC State, Javier Gonzalez, who has the basketball skills of a ball boy, had his best game of the season running past Duke’s guards. He finished with 15, dishing a season high eight assists.

Against Georgetown, all three of the Hoyas’ guards were flying in and out of the lane at will. Freeman, Wright and Clark finished with 50 points on 20-25 shooting. Only 29% of their shots were threes.

Heck, just look at the semifinals match up with Miami. Freshman Durand Scott (a 27% three-point shooter) had a field day against Duke. He was inside the paint so much, Coach K should have charged him rent. He finished 10-15 (scoring 21), taking only two 3-point shots.

The fact is, it could have been worse. While Scott is lightning quick, he’s not yet a great point guard and when he goes into the lane, you can tell even from my living room whether he’s going to lay it up or dish it out. Yet he still hit 10-15 shots. He would have had more assists (three total), but his big men kept fumbling balls away.

Now don’t get me wrong, Duke has shutdown a handful of quick guards, including Wake’s Ishmael Smith, Connecticut’s Jerome Dyson and Virginia Tech’s Malcolm Delaney. Yet this is the NCAA Tournament and the Blue Devils will have to face a ton of speedy guards.

In fact, just about every team Duke will probably face has a flashy, penetrating guard that will give them trouble…Louisville (Sosa), Texas A&M (Sloan), Baylor (Dunn) and Villanova (Reynolds). Even if Duke can shut down all these guys, in the final four they’ll possibly face two of the quickest point guards in the nation, Kentucky (Wall) and Kansas (Collins).

Of all the talk of dribble-drive, motion, man-to-man, zone, getting it inside, nailing the three, the one thing that gets overlooked when determining the outcome of a game is the fast break, i.e. the ability to make your opponent pay for missing a shot.

Like we already said, Scheyer has done some amazing things this season as a point guard, but he’s not a point guard, or at least he’s not suppose to be. The fact is, when Duke rebounds a ball, there is a “wait” attitude, which then allows the opponent to get back on defense. Unless the Blue Devils get a steal, they never run.

What made Ty Lawson so great last year was his ability to get the ball quickly from point A to point B, often getting the ball into the basket or into a shooter’s hands on the wing before half the opponent’s defense has crossed mid-court.

While it never shows up on the stat sheet, when Duke can’t push a defensive rebound, it is a blown opportunity. It’s one less easy shot/lay up in the clear. Now Duke has 29 wins this season, so they’ve overcome this, but there are no more Virginia’s on the schedule. You don’t take advantage of missed shots against a team like Kentucky or West Virginia, you will lose.

While Zoubek, Thomas and the Plumlee brothers have done an admirable job inside, let’s face it, when they’ve come up against a real meat and potatoes big man, the kind that will make some $$$ in the NBA one day, they get abused. Tracy Smith shoot 10-12, Greg Monroe was 7-11, Gani Lawal shoot 9-11 in Duke’s first meeting with Georgia Tech and Derrick Favors was 8-14 (including 6-7 from the free throw line).

What Duke’s big men could hold their own against any team in the South Region, what could they possibly do against a combo like Kentucky’s Cousins and Patterson? Not much.

The one thing you’ll find in common in all of Duke’s recent NCAA tournament loses is a cold shooting night from the superstars. I mean, we’re talking about some awful numbers. Remember last year against Nova, Henderson (1-14), Scheyer (3-18)? In 2007, Duke’s best player, DeMarcus Nelson was only 2-11 against West Virginia. J.J. Redick, Duke’s great shooter, was just 13-49 (27%) in his four NCAA Tournament loses.

For all the good things this Duke team has done, you would never call them a “great shooting” team. I’m not sure if you can call them a “good shooting” team. Duke has failed to shoot 40% in five of its last eight games and hasn’t shot 40% or higher in three straight games since January 17th.

Now they’ve obviously have found ways to win without great scoring (hell, they beat the Hokies despite shooting 29% from the floor), but in the NCAA Tournament, you won’t win a lot of games shooting around 35%.

The Blue Devils are coming out of the ACC, the most physical conference I’ve seen this year. In fact, I would say this season was the most physical I’ve even seen in the ACC. A lot of bodies went flying around this season. Duke averaged 18.5 fouls per game and that’s with a lot of none-calls (on both teams). Of those 18.5, nearly 12 of them are committed by Duke’s big men (Zoubek, Thomas, Miles and Mason Plumlee).

Once in the tournament, the ref’s whistles will get put to use, especially from refs who aren’t accustomed to the rough and tumble ways of the ACC. For Duke to have any shot at all, the big men, especially Zoubek, need to stay out of foul trouble. Big Z can’t grab much-needed offensive boards sitting on the pine, so no more stupid little fouls!

Obviously Duke has the Big Three (Singler, Scheyer and Smith). The threesome is the highest scoring threesome in the land. Let’s face the facts though, right now these three are “college” good. Duke’s recent failure to reach the Final Four has nothing to do with strategy, it has nothing to do with “tired legs” and it has nothing to do with “a bad shooting night.” It takes real talent to reach the Final Four and Duke’s talent is not “pro” talent.

Think about Duke’s most recent Final Four and championship teams.

– The 2004 squad had Redick, Williams, Deng and Duhon. That’s four NBA players.
– The 2001 championship team started Jay Williams, Boozer, Battier, Duleavy and Duhon. That’s five NBA players (excluding Williams whose career was cut short by the motorcycle accident).
– The 1999 Final Four team had Brand (the #1 pick in the NBA), Battier and Maggette (not to mention William Avery).

On this current Duke team, is there a future NBA lottery pick on the roster? Not right now. Don’t get me wrong, someone is going to draft Singler, someone will take a chance on Scheyer and Nolan Smith will be drafted after next season. None of these guys though would be lottery picks. Only Mason Plumlee has that potential and ability, but not right now he doesn’t.

Duke was a monster at home, dominating anyone who stepped foot into Durham. On the road though, things weren’t so pretty. Duke was only 5-5 on the road this season and none of those five road wins were easy.

Of course, no one in this tournament is playing a home game, so no one gets an advantage, right? Not so fast. If Duke advances to the Sweet 16, they will head to Houston, Texas and potentially have to face back-to-back Texas teams, A&M and Baylor.

Now the Blue Devils are a national team and have fans at every spot, but this will not be a pro-Duke crowd. Not even Shane Battier’s charm is going to turn Houston into a pro-Duke town.

That’s it. Those are my reasons. If you are like me and you have watched this team all season long, you can’t dispute these reasons. This team is not a national championship team. However…and there is always a “however”…less talented teams have won gotten to the final four and less talented teams have won the title…George Mason anyone? So…


Nolan Smith knows what I’m talking about. The Blue Devils can read. They have to be able to feel the hate. They have to know that everyone is hoping/praying they will lose. They know no one is picking them. They need to use this negative energy to motivate them. When their legs are getting tired, remember how shitty everyone thinks you are.

The New York Giants won a freaking Superbowl against arguably the greatest football team ever because of their “us against the world” mentality. If they can beat the New England Patriots, then Duke’s “good players” can overcome “lottery-filled” Kentucky and Kansas.

Like we said before, Smith, Scheyer and Singler are Duke’s big three. They’ve had a great year, but you know what? They can do better? The fact is, the three have rarely ever played great all at the same time. One has always been in a slump or one always seems to have a bad night. Of course that’s fine if only one has an off night, because two stars will win you a lot of games. Yet, if Duke really wants to cut down the nets in three weeks, the big three need to all have great nights, every night.

And no, I’m not talking about Notre Damn, who Duke could end up facing. This is something I hit on two years ago and it holds true today. The Blue Devils, like all teams, could use a little luck in the tournament when it comes to match ups.

Disclaimer: I’m not making excuses for Duke’s recent failures in the tournament. When Duke has lost recently, they’ve always been the higher seed losing to a lower seed.

Now Duke already caught a break being placed in the south. If you’re a Duke fan, you had to be happy with the region and the opponents. If you’re not a Duke fan, you can just make up some conspiracy.What ever makes you happy when you touch yourself.

Yet, there is more to this than just seeding. Once the games get started, the seeding usually goes right out the window. My point is, it helps to not always have to face the toughest opponent in the next round. For Duke, they’ve rarely been afforded this break.

Since 1990, Duke has faced a double-digit seed (#10 or higher) after the first-round only four times. The last time Duke didn’t face a five seed or higher in the Sweet 16 was 1999.

Also, since 1986 (yep, we’re going waaaaayyy back), Duke has faced a sixth seed or worse after the tournament’s first weekend (rounds one and two) a total of 10 times. What do all 10 of those times have in common? Duke went to the Final Four every time!

All I’m saying is, it wouldn’t hurt Duke’s chances if a team like Utah State or Siena could reach the Sweet 16 or even better, a team like Richmond or Notre Dame got to the Elite Eight.

Now I’m talking about coaching. I’ve always gave a ton of props to Coach K for being able to adjust his team’s style around the talent he had on the floor. Think about it, this isn’t a great Duke team (at least not compared to past teams), yet they are a No 1 seed and they’ll win 30+ games playing a top-five SOS.

However, for Duke to hold up that trophy at the end, this coaching staff will need to throw in some new wrinkles. If Due faces Louisville, let’s play full-court D. If they face Baylor’s zone, switch Nolan to the point and let Scheyer sit on the three-line. If Duke can get to the final four and face Kentucky, shock them with a 2-3 zone for a full 40 minutes. Duke won’t beat the better teams if it’s just talent vs. talent. Coach K needs to pull some magic out of that ass of his.

Over the last month and a half, Duke has finally settled on a good rotation. The experience (three seniors and two juniors) start the game. The Plumlee brothers come in around the four or five-minute mark. Dawkins comes in just before the 12-minute TV timeout, while Coach K rotates out the Big Three. Barring foul trouble, Coach K will rotate the big men one more time in the half.

In the second, he does it all over again.

Everyone knows their roles and minutes now and over the last few weeks, the Plumlee’s and Dawkins have played well (although the D still hasn’t impressed me). They’re gaining confidence in their shots and abilities. The question is, is it enough? It will need to be, at least for one of them.

One of these guys needs to become a scoring option when they’re on the floor. I’m talking about the kind of performance the announcers will rave about. Someone needs to step up. Who’s it going to be?

That’s all I got, folks. I want that headline I wrote to be wrong. Let’s go Duke. Make me look like an ass.

***UPDATE: God it’s good to be wrong sometimes.***