Duke Blue Devils
Record: 26-4 (13-3, 2nd place ACC)
Key Wins: Wisconsin, Marquette, Clemson, @ North Carolina
Key Losses: N-Pittsburgh, @ Wake Forest, @ Miami, North Carolina
NCAA Tournament Status: LOCKStrengths: The 2007-2008 version of the Blue Devils spread the floor and penetrate for easy buckets or kick-outs for open three-pointers. This team frequently has five players on the floor who can handle the basketball and have the moves to get to the paint. The Blue Devils shoot nearly 39% from three-point land, a tribute to not only good shooters, but open looks. Therefore, Duke is a matchup nightmare for many teams, along the lines of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.
Weaknesses: Post play. Simply put, Duke has no offensive weapons down low. Kyle Singler plays the 5-spot for Duke, but Singler is only 6-8 and projects as a 3 in the NBA. Not only does Duke lack the ability to get traditional, easy shots out of its post players, but the Blue Devils also suffer from a lack of rebounding. Second-chance points are hard to come by, as are defensive rebounds against bigger teams. Also, for all of its abilities on the offensive end as a team, individually, Duke is not super athletic at its guard spots. Both Jon Scheyer and Greg Paulus can be beaten off the dribble by quicker guards, as exploited by Eric Major of VCU in last year’s NCAA Tournament first round upset. Finally, Duke relies a great deal on its three-point shooting. This strength becomes a weakness when those shots are not following (which, mind you, is not often).
Key Player: DeMarcus Nelson is the senior leader of this team, its leading scorer, and second-leading rebounder. A tremendous athlete and physical specimen, Nelson has developed into a good shooter and lockdown defender. Duke is very balanced as a team, with five players averaging double figures. However, Nelson is the most complete player and the guy most likely to take over a game for his squad.
X-Factor: Brian Zoubek, Lance Thomas, and David McClure. These three make up the aforementioned “weakness” of Duke’s team, the traditional frontline post players. In the Big Dance, Duke will surely meet at least one team with a decided height advantage, forcing Duke to get production out of these guys. They are all capable players and big bodies who don’t need to carry the scoring load. However, they will most definitely be called upon for rebounding and defense against bigger teams. How Coach K chooses to play against big teams (matchup his bigger guys or keep playing small ball to keep the mismatches) will largely depend on his confidence in the production of this collective X-Factor.
Style of Play: Tenacious defense. Duke pressures the ball like few teams are capable of doing, making it incredibly difficult for their opponent to get into its offense. Man-to-man defense exclusively, as Coach K despises zone play. Duke will continue to drive and kick until they get a layup or an open three pointer. This is a very tough team, quite resilient. They are never out of a game due to their collective three-point prowess and the name on the front of the jersey. Any way you cut it, a team realizes it is playing “Duke” and what that means in the NCAA Tournament.
Why Duke Will Win: Matchup nightmare with their ability to stretch the floor, great defense, Coach K.
Why Duke Will Lose: Lack of productive size, reliance on three-pointers that don’t always fall
Tournament Prediction: Duke has the ability to make the Final Four. Whether or not they do will depend largely on their draw.
Editor’s Note: I agree with Kyle 100% on his assessment. Duke could make the Final Four, and playing in Raleigh for the first two rounds, I wouldn’t pick them to lose before the Sweet 16. But this is not a vintage Duke team, and Brian Zoubek in particular could play a big role if an opponent can get Singler into foul trouble. We saw frontcourt weakness come into play a little bit with DaJuan Blair of Pitt in the non-conference season. That said, Duke’s ability to spread the floor is on par with teams like Tennessee and Oregon…stay tuned for their draw.