With only two regular-season games remaining until the ACC tournament, the Duke basketball team has to be considered one of the favorites to take home the national championship.
Duke has won 11 of its past 13 contests and has climbed all the way up to No. 4 in the country in both major polls.
In terms of pure talent, it doesn’t get much better than Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, Rasheed Sulaimon, Amile Jefferson, Andre Dawkins, Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton. Throw in Mike Krzyzewski at the helm and it isn’t difficult to imagine great things when the postseason rolls around.
However, don’t forget that there were also some lows during the 2013-14 campaign.
The Blue Devils started 1-2 in the ACC and appeared to be at a crossroads in early January. Even Parker himself hit a freshman wall of sorts and was benched for the final four minutes of the two-point loss to Notre Dame.
The fact that there have been combinations of highs and lows within the same season suggests what Duke is capable of in either direction.
It is easy to get caught in the moment and say Duke is on the short list of Final Four contenders because of how well it has played recently. That being said, defense and rebounding problems could become an issue in a hypothetical worst-case scenario—especially given the one-and-done format of the NCAA tournament.
Coach K himself suggested the same in a press conference in early February:
We can lose easier than last year’s team because, one, we don’t have a lot of depth in the frontcourt. We’re not this big and strong team. There are more opportunities to lose with this team. When you’re coaching, you’d like to reduce the number of ways you can lose. And I’m not sure even as we get better that we’re going to be able to.
The Blue Devils’ rebounding issues have been discussed ad nauseam this season, but that doesn’t change the fact that they rank 182nd in the country in total rebounds per game. North Carolina exploited this weakness in Duke’s latest loss by out-rebounding the Blue Devils 43-30.
If Krzyzewski’s squad runs into a similar physically dominant team with a formidable frontcourt early in the NCAA tournament, a similar development could occur.
Again, this is a worst-case scenario and not a prediction. In this hypothetical, however, the Blue Devils would be knocked out of the Big Dance in their second game to a No. 7 or 8 seed—depending on whether Duke is a No. 1 or 2 seed itself.
The reality is that rebounding will continue to be the dark cloud hovering over Durham until Jahlil Okafor arrives on campus.
On the flip side of the coin, what about the best-case scenario for the Blue Devils?
Jeff Borzello of CBSSports.com envisions a Final Four in Duke’s future:
Florida, Kansas, Duke, Iowa State. RT @AlecFMichael: Who's your final four?— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) February 28, 2014
Again, go back to all that talent on the Blue Devils’ roster. Ken Pomeroy has Duke ranked as the second-best offense in his pace-adjusted offensive efficiency ratings as of Tuesday behind only Creighton. The name of the game is scoring more points than the opposition and few teams—if any—are better-suited to do just that than the Blue Devils in March.
In the one-and-done format of the tournament, superstars often take over games. Just look at what guys like Ben Gordon or Carmelo Anthony have done in the past for evidence of that.
Who’s to say Parker couldn’t do the same in what may be his only collegiate season?
Even if Parker struggles in a given game, there are so many other options between Hood, Sulaimon, Cook, Dawkins and Jefferson that the Duke offense will still be dangerous.
The best-case scenario for this team is to win the national championship. In fact, with so much talent in place, it is much easier to envision Krzyzewski cutting down the nets than going home during the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Follow me on Twitter: