Why Duke Won't Make It Past The Sweet Sixteen

Matthew GilmartinSenior Analyst IFebruary 25, 2009

March Madness is right around the corner, and the Duke Blue Devils don't do anything better than anyone else. 

They can't outscore anyone like North Carolina and are too inconsistent defensively to out-defend anyone like Washington State. 

How does Duke win without being able to something better than anyone else? 

They have a trio of stars surrounded by quality role players who do their job well, but also trust their teammates to do their jobs. Everyone does their part—and nothing more— unless someone is having a bad games, and then everyone else picks up the slack. The result is a well-oiled, winning machine. 

But will this team makeup be enough to carry the Devils in March?  Let's see...

As much publicity as forward Gerald Henderson has gotten this year because of his breakout season, forward/center Kyle Singler is really the catalyst for the Blue Devils. 

He leads Duke in every rebounding category—rebounds per game (7.8), offensive rebounds (81), defensive rebounds (130), and total rebounds (211)—steals (45), and turnovers forced (66). 

Singler also ranks second on the Blue Devils in points per game (16.1, only .2 PPG behind the leader, Henderson), assists per game (2.7, only .2 assists behind the leader, Greg Paulus), assists (72, only five behind the leader, Jon Scheyer), blocks (22, two behind the leader, Brian Zoubek), and minutes (834).  Singler is truly a do-it-all player.  If it weren't for him, Duke would be much less of a team. 

The only quibbles with Singler are that he's a little inconsistent—he's been held under ten points in three games this season—and he gets into foul trouble too much (he ranks second on the team in personal fouls, with 68, only one behind the leader, Lance Thomas).  But overall Singler is the kind of player every coach wants on his team. 

Forward Gerald Henderson primarily provides scoring from the floor, and defense.  He averages 16.3 points-per-game, tops on the team, and is Duke's best overall shooter.  He shoots 50 percent from the field overall and 37 percent from behind the arc.  Henderson has compiled 40 steals and 56 turnovers, both of which rank second on the team.

Henderson's poise is unmatched and that often makes him an excellent clutch shooter. And while not as impressive as Singler on the boards, Henderson gives Duke a nice boost on the glass with 4.7 rebounds-per-game, despite the fact that he's a perimeter player and is smaller than any post player he's likely to go up against for a board.

However, Henderson's lack of reliability at the free-throw line is disconcerting sometimes.

Guard Jon Scheyer is the final component of Duke's "Big Three."  Scheyer does some of everything—averaging 13.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.9 assists (tops on the squad), and accumulating 40 steals in addition to 44 turnovers.  Scheyer is also Duke's second-best shooter from the floor—he shoots 38 percent from the field overall and three-pointers combined—and the best at free-throw line, where he converts 85 percent of his shots. 

The rest of the team is comprised of role players. 

Guard Nolan Smith is a suitable on-ball defender, more as a sixth man than as a starter.  He can also shoot three's when needed.

Point guard Greg Paulus provides consistent, pesky defensive pressure on and off the ball.  In addition, he has the ability to drain 30-foot shots with consistency.  Paulus is the guy Coach K goes to when he needs someone to light a spark under the rest of the team.

Forward Lance Thomas is really only a body Coach K puts in if he needs to replace someone in foul trouble for a few minutes, or if a more physical presence is needed in the post. He fouls more than anything.

Forward David McClure brings excellent all-around defense and rebounding in addition to crisp passing. He never takes a play off—ever.

Brian Zoubek mostly blocks shots (he actually leads the team in blocks, with 24) and fouls guys down in the post.  He also travels more than he should, due to questionable foot work.

Elliot Williams is Duke's best on-ball defender, and he's only a freshmen.  He gave Duke fans a spectacular defensive performance in the home game against Wake, with three steals in the first three minutes of the game to help Duke to an early lead.  He's also a great slasher, and can shoot if needed.

Duke doesn't do anything better than every other team in D-I.  But they still make things work because they play as a team.  Every player brings something different, and no one tries to do too much.  That's why they win.

But the Blue Devils aren't perfect.

The glaring weakness is the lack of a dominant true post player.  Brian Zoubek, who stands 7'1" and weighs 280 pounds, has poor footwork and limited ball-handling skills that prevent him from being a true inside force, despite his fitting size.  Kyle Singler has the skills, but lacks the size.  If the Devils meet a big man with the skills Zoubek lacks, they could be in trouble.

The inconsistency on defense is a bit concerning, too.  If an opponent drops 90 on them in March, chances are the Devils won't be able to win unless they force a ton of turnovers and convert them for a lot of points.

The strengths certainly outweigh the weaknesses.  But the two problems that Duke has risk their chances in March Madness too much.  This team likely won't get past the Sweet Sixteen, where the tournament boys are separated from the men.