2007 Duke Blue Devils
For the last decade, the Big Dance has been all about four letters. No, not N-C-A-A. I mean D-U-K-E. When Duke showed up in a schools bracket, several other four-letter words were uttered by fans. Some have even gone so far as to joke its first two games in the last decade were the Durham Invitational Tournament because Coach K’s squad has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen every year since 1996. The 2007 era of Duke basketball is a year-long lesson on how to succeed without now-departed All-Americans J.J. Redick and Sheldon Williams. As a result, schools aren’t afraid of Duke anymore. Yet because of that, Duke could potentially be more dangerous than ever.
Team Personality: The Blue Devils have been inconsistent on offense, lack veteran leadership during big games, and haven’t defended Cameron Indoor Stadium like most college basketball fans are used to. However, this team does have four necessary components to make a long run in the tournament once again. Point guard Greg Paulus and forward Josh McRoberts are one of the best inside-outside duos in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Without Redick, the next question in Duke’s offense was which perimeter player will be asked to make that game-ending three-pointer? Turns out freshman guard Jon Scheyer is just as good as advertised. The suburban Chicago recruit went through the normal freshman tentative phase and has now decided when the game is on the line, he wants the ball. Scheyer has brought the same shooting touch he had at Glenbrook North High School where he once scored 21 points in less than two minutes. As the backup point guard, he’ll also be given the responsibility of running the offense without a long drought.
Reasons they can get a 4-5 seed: Duke has a road game at the Dean Dome where if they can knock off the Tar Heels, it will allow them to stay in the running for a protected seed. A win on Sunday would also give them much-needed momentum going into the ACC Tournament, as Duke will not get a bye and must win four games in four days to cut down the nets in Tampa. A win over North Carolina and getting to the ACC Tournament final could get the committee to see this team more like Blue Devil squad they saw before New Years Day.
Has to be on the Floor: DeMarcus Nelson. Name Duke’s leading scorer. Go ahead. McRoberts? No. Scheyer? Nope. Paulus? Wrong again.
Nelson may be underrated nationally, but his own team appreciates the fact he can attack the basket from the wing and also lock down the opposition’s best athlete on the other end of the floor. Nelson reminds the Cameron Crazies of former gritty player Sean Dockery, but he understands the fundamentals of Coach K’s system and seemingly keeps the Blue Devils calm during the end of games.
Potential Pitfall: The talent of top seeds. The problem for Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski is that his starting five isn’t better than any protected seed’s five. Duke used to have to play bad to lose, especially in the early rounds of the tournament. This season, Coach K is relying on too many freshman and (it showed against North Carolina, Maryland, and Virginia Tech) the team can play its best and still lose. However, this team has beaten Air Force, Gonzaga, Indiana, and Georgetown, so it has proved it can beat elite teams.
How to reach the Final Four: Look, getting to the Final Four would be a monstrous overachievement, but this is the only accomplishment Durham nation considers acceptable. So how do they do it?
The Blue Devils have to slow the game down. If Duke plays a team like Memphis in the second round, they have to try and force a halfcourt style. If they are going to rely on a halfcourt game, Paulus, Nelson and Scheyer must hit shots. This has been the problem over the last couple of years in the NCAA Tournament for Duke. In losses to LSU and Michigan State prior to the Elite Eight, Redick had off-nights from the perimeter and nobody was able to step up to pick up the slack.
The final piece in a Final Four run for Duke is McRoberts. The former McDonald’s All-American needs to realize he can dominate most post players he comes across. If McRoberts becomes a 15-10 guy instead of a 12-7 player, this team has a chance to surprise by making a deep run in the tournament.