Duke Is Extremely Close To Belonging on the Same Tier As the Undefeated Teams

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Duke Is Extremely Close To Belonging on the Same Tier As the Undefeated Teams
Nick Laham/Getty Images

North Carolina reeling in the highly touted recruit Harrison Barnes was supposed to be the exclamation point on the statement, "Roy Williams is pulling UNC far ahead of Duke in the Tobacco Road rivalry!"

That statement no longer seems so sound.

Just a few days into the New Year, Duke has quietly emerged as one of the five or six best teams in the country while the Tar Heels are off losing to a Southern Conference team not named Davidson.

As Kansas, Texas, Kentucky, and Purdue get the notoriety as being undefeated and Syracuse as the hot surprise team, the Blue Devils just keep trucking with a deadly efficient offense and a defense that suffocates with its length.

These Blue Devils scoff at the idea that they aren't athletic as some have claimed. Lack of athleticism doesn't translate into the nation's most prolific offense or to a superior defense.

The only thing Duke lacks is a lack of backcourt bodies, but even that doesn't seem like much of problem when Coach Mike Krzyzewski can throw Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith, and Andre Dawkins out on the court for the 80 available backcourt minutes.

Duke's success begins right where their failures were supposed to begin. Jon Scheyer doesn't look like your typical point guard. 6'5'' guys are typically meant to find the wing and handle the ball only when trying to create their own shot.

Instead, Scheyer emerged last year as a viable option to run Coach K's offense and has flourished this season as Duke's floor general. His 30.4 percent/9.5 percent assist percentage to turnover percentage is simply outstanding.

Combine his efficiency with the rock with his strong shooting percentages (.485 from two, .43 from three, and .907 from the line) and Scheyer is the third most productive player in the country.

His running mates, Smith and Dawkins, have been nearly as prolific. Smith's role was a bit ambiguous now that Scheyer is running the point, but he's developed into a wicked three-point shooter.

After skipping his senior year of high school, Dawkins is now one of the nation's most unsung heroes as the freshman, in nearly 20 minutes per game off the bench, is right behind Scheyer in offensive efficiency. He also rarely turns the ball over and has shooting splits that mirror Scheyer (.500, .464, .815).

After struggling to guard the perimeter the past two seasons, this Duke backcourt is back to shutting down the game's greatest equalizer: the three-point shot.

The Blue Devils also shut down their opponents inside the perimeter with their devastating length. The starting front line isn't that long. Both preseason All-American candidate Kyle Singler and Lance Thomas are 6'8''  while starting center Miles Plumlee is 6'10''.

It's the length off the bench that gives Duke its advantage. 7'1'' Brian Zoubek clears the glass as well as anyone in the country while the 6'10'' freshman duo of Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee are learning the college game.

Duke's interior defense allows opponents to make just 40 percent of their twos and clear 31 percent of their own misses. With the depth in the frontcourt, the guards know they don't have to foul if they get beat on the perimeter. 

Overall, Coach Krzyzewski has one of the most complete rosters he's had this decade. Scheyer and Singler have emerged as stars, but Duke also has the necessary role players to currently dominate every facet of the game.

These Blue Devils deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Kansas, Texas, Kentucky, and Purdue, and they deserve to be mentioned before the triumvirate of Big East titans West Virginia, Syracuse, and Villanova.

For more updates on college basketball, follow @JamesonFleming and the @BR_CollegeBBall pages on twitter.

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