Duke Basketball: Blue Devils' Blueprint to Win the National Championship
It was a quick and disappointing stay in the 2013 ACC tournament for the Duke Blue Devils after suffering a quarterfinals upset against the Maryland Terrapins.
While it lessened the superiority of this Duke basketball team heading into the NCAA tournament, the Blue Devils are still considered as one of the best teams in the country.
At the conclusion of Selection Sunday, Duke was tabbed as the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region and will meet the No. 15 seed Albany Great Danes out of the America East conference on Friday, March 22. Among the teams standing in the Blue Devils' path to the Final Four are the No. 1 overall seed Louisville Cardinals, the No. 3 seed Michigan State Spartans and the No. 4 seed Saint Louis Billikens.
For Duke to dispatch each and every challenge that comes its way in a truly wide-open tournament, the Blue Devils will need to follow this blueprint to success in order to capture their fifth national championship.
Regain Focus and Confidence
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Duke ended the regular season on such a high note that many felt that it was the premier team in the country and the national championship favorite.
One week later and after a less-than-impressive showing in the ACC tournament, however, the Blue Devils will enter the NCAA tournament in an attempt to regain a considerable amount of confidence that they lost.
Duke is still dangerous. That goes without saying.
The Blue Devils possess one of the most efficient offenses in the nation while being led by the best trio in all of college basketball with seniors Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee. Also, point guard Quinn Cook is one of the most improved players in the country with terrific numbers.
Nevertheless, the team needs to prove to the rest of the country that it's fully capable of making a legitimate Final Four run.
And that starts with refocusing and reacquiring the same confidence that it obtained during the course of the season when achieving the best résumé in the nation.
Converting from Beyond the Arc
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Live by the three, die by the three.
We've all heard the expression in the game of basketball, and more importantly when talking about the Duke basketball program.
Fortunately for the Blue Devils this season, they haven't had to rely solely on the three-point shot like in years past.
Mason Plumlee controlling the low post has allowed the Duke offense to be more spaced out in its attack with four capable three-point shooters.
However, when they're not converting the outside shot, the Blue Devils' offense becomes completely ineffective.
Duke is currently fourth in the country in three-point field goal percentage connecting on 40.6 percent of its attempts. But in its five losses this season by an average of 10.2 points, the Blue Devils combined to shoot a horrendous 25 percent (28-of-112) from beyond the arc.
The recipe for a championship is simple. Stay consistent from three and Duke marches on through the Midwest region and gets back to the Final Four for the second time in the last four years.
Getting Ryan Kelly Back on Track
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Ryan Kelly returned to the Duke lineup emphatically and impressively by combining to average 27 points and eight rebounds in his first two games back.
In the process, he restored the Blue Devils' title hopes that had slightly diminished in his absence.
Since then, Kelly has dropped off in his production in the last two games significantly. In games against North Carolina and Maryland, the 6'11" senior has only been able to average just eight points and three rebounds.
As it has been well documented, his ability to stretch opposing defenses with his outside shooting is extremely important to Duke's success. He currently leads the Blue Devils in three-point field goal percentage, hitting 48.6 percent of his attempts.
Obviously, when Kelly is performing at a high level, Duke operates more efficiently on both ends of the floor. When he isn't, the loss to Maryland in the ACC tournament is indicative of how the Blue Devils can be vulnerable to an early exit in the NCAA tournament.
Rebound the Basketball with Consistency
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There is a lot to like about this Duke basketball team, though rebounding is not one of those elements. It has remained the Blue Devils' most glaring weakness throughout the course of the season.
Statistically speaking, Duke ranks 213th in the country, averaging only 33 rebounds per game—a far cry from being remotely considered as average.
While Mason Plumlee does a great job of corralling missed opportunities, guys like Ryan Kelly, Josh Hairston and even Amile Jefferson will need to do a much better job of establishing position and securing rebounds.
In order for the Blue Devils to control their own destiny in the NCAA tournament, managing to remain consistent on the glass against better rebounding teams is a must.
Rising to the Occasion
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Duke did itself no favors in terms of NCAA tournament seeding by coming up just short in the race for an ACC regular season title and dropping out of the ACC tournament in the quarterfinals.
Despite compiling the best résumé in the country, Duke was selected as a No. 2 seed and placed in the Midwest Region—arguably the toughest of the four regions.
Its portion of the bracket includes the No. 1 overall seed Louisville Cardinals, who the Blue Devils defeated at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the championship game. Unfortunately for Duke, the Cardinals have made a tremendous leap in their overall improvement since that matchup in November, thus warranting a bevy of experts to tab the Big East tournament champions as the national championship favorite.
However, this region isn't just about Duke and Louisville.
Michigan State, the No. 3 seed in this region, should prove to be a difficult out for any team. A potential Sweet 16 matchup between the Blue Devils and Spartans is extremely enticing.
Also, don't overlook possible bracket-busters in No. 4 seed Saint Louis and No. 5 seed Oklahoma State, who have both stayed consistent all year long.
For Duke, though, they can win this region and advance to the Final Four in Atlanta, Ga. They've risen to the occasion many times in the past. And in this parity-filled tournament, don't be surprised when you see Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils positioning themselves to win its fifth national title.