Duke has had a roller coaster type of season with plenty of ups and downs. Unfortunately, it is likely to end poorly as the Blue Devils fail to reach the Sweet 16.
At the beginning of the year, this squad looked like a legitimate national title contender. While the injury to Ryan Kelly led to a few defeats, his return made Duke once again look like a Final Four team.
That was until the Blue Devils' second loss against Maryland once again exposed them as a team that is likely to lose early. In addition, the bracket was not kind, setting the squad up in arguably the toughest region in the NCAA tournament.
The No. 2 seed will fight hard for a trip to Atlanta, but it will not make it out of the first weekend for the following reasons.
Too Reliant on Three-Point Shooting
This is something that could be said about virtually any Duke team over the past decade, but it remains true this season.
The Blue Devils are No. 4 in the country in three-point percentage, but each loss featured some terrible shooting from the outside. In the ACC tournament, they hit only 4-of-25 shots from behind the arc.
When last year's squad fell to Lehigh in the first round, the team combined to hit only 6-of-26 shots from deep, so it is obvious that this problem can have devastating consequences.
Mason Plumlee is a solid interior scorer, but he doesn't have enough help in the middle. When shots fail to fall, the team struggles to put points on the board. This will end up being a problem at some point in the tournament, the only question is when.
Teams are able to beat Duke when they can get easy shots and make them. North Carolina State, Miami and Maryland (twice) were able to shoot over 50 percent from the floor against the Blue Devils.
This is not due to having career days; it is because the defense failed to rotate well enough to force tough shots.
While it might not be a problem against a team like Albany, it would certainly be an issue in the second game against Creighton. The Blue Jays are No. 1 in the country in both three-point percentage and overall field-goal percentage.
They simply pass well enough to get themselves open looks, and then every shot is an easy one.
Creighton has to beat Cincinnati in the round of 64 to get this matchup, but it could lead to problems for Duke in the round of 32.
Based on the previous section, Duke should be rooting for Cincinnati to win the first game against Creighton to give the Blue Devils an easier matchup.
Unfortunately, this would create a completely different set of problems.
Outside of Plumlee, Duke struggled to rebound the ball consistently this season. As a whole, the team ranked 213th in the country in total rebounds per game.
The squad lost the battle on the glass in each of their five losses this year, as well as in many of their wins.
Conversely, Cincinnati is the No. 8 rebounding team in the nation. The Bearcats do not have one elite player down low, but everyone boxes out well and they go aggressively at loose balls on both ends of the court.
In this matchup, the Blue Devils would have virtually no second-chance opportunities, which would severely limit the offense.
Loss of Confidence
In Kelly's first game back from his foot injury, he scored 36 points in a big win over Miami. In the next two games, Duke played with a great deal of confidence as one of the best teams in the country.
Fans, along with everyone on the roster, realized that this team was undefeated with Kelly and the rest of the year could be forgotten.
However, the ACC tournament loss seemed to take a lot out of the Blue Devils. At the end of the game, there were plenty of poor decisions followed by worse body language.
Not only did the Blue Devils lose a chance at a No. 1 seed, but few experts now believe that a Final Four run is possible (no one at ESPN picked Duke out of the Midwest).
There is no more feeling of invincibility, and, instead, the reminder of a loss to a No. 15 seed one year ago lives.
This is still a very talented team, but it appears that this will not be Duke's year to have another deep run in March.
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