Duke Basketball: Why the Blue Devils Are a Final Four Lock
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Even for Duke standards, this has been a crazy season.
Mike Krzyzewski had his big moment when Duke’s victory against Michigan State gave him more wins than any coach in Division I history.
Two months later, freshman phenom Austin Rivers captured America’s attention again with a stunning buzzer beater in Chapel Hill to defeat rival UNC.
And Thursday’s memorable comeback against NC State was probably Duke’s wildest win yet.
Don’t expect things in Durham to settle down as the NCAA tournament approaches. This Duke squad looks poised for championship glory. Here’s why Duke fans should start booking their trips to New Orleans right now.
They are battle-tested: After surviving a behemoth of a schedule, the Blue Devils will be ready for anything that comes their way in March. Duke has already toppled four top 20 teams (five if you include Michigan State, who wasn’t ranked when Duke played them). Close wins against Kansas, Michigan State, Virginia and UNC show that the Blue Devils can grind out a win even when they are not at their best.
Austin Rivers is a stud: The best high school player in the nation last year will soon be able to add “best college player in the nation” to his resume. He’s super-quick, a money three-point shooter and he’s clutch. Rivers is a cold-blooded assassin. If I had to pick one player in the country to take the last shot, he’d be my guy.
They are tough: Though I wouldn’t consider either of the Plumlee brothers a true center, they’re both tough as nails and will rebound the heck out of the ball. Duke has famously been a finesse team but this year’s squad has shown us some muscle too.
Which team has the best chance to win the national title in April?
They can hit the three: While Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee have owned the low post, Rivers and Seth Curry (both from famous NBA families) have been torching the ACC from beyond the arc (38.6% on the season). Rivers often uses his lightning quick speed and great dribbling ability to penetrate and then kick out to an open Curry or Andre Dawkins for three. Works every time.
They are hungry: Duke fell flat in the NCAA tournament last season (smoked by Arizona in the Sweet 16). Don’t think they’ve forgotten. With most of the same characters in place, the Blue Devils know what it takes to make a deep tournament run, and they’re ready to prove it.
The field is weak: Last season Kansas, Pitt and Ohio State were heavy favorites going into the tournament, and even though UConn was a 3-seed, everyone knew to look out for Kemba Walker. This year, there is no dominant team.
Kentucky and Syracuse both have terrific records but neither one has been challenged by teams in their conference like Duke has. Kansas has Thomas Robinson, but he’s no Blake Griffin. Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, though still a powerful big man, hasn’t shown much improvement from a year ago.
The field in 2012 is as wide open as it has ever been.
So don’t close the book on Duke’s storybook season just yet. And don't be surprised if the season ends with Coach K celebrating his fifth National Championship.
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