It is that time of year.
It’s March Madness. No other event captures the attention of the nation for an extended period of time quite like this tournament.
Most of the nation is familiar with some events in recent tournaments. One of the trends in the past few years has been the struggle of national powerhouse Duke.
The Blue Devils have not reached the Final Four since 2004 and are coming off three relatively disappointing appearances. After reaching nine consecutive Sweet 16s, Duke has appeared in only one the past three tournaments, including a first-round exit in 2007 and a second-round bounce a year later.
Much of Duke nation is concerned about the traditional national powerhouse. Is this the year when the team gets back to its customary form in the tournament?
Or will the Crazies see yet another disappointing result for the fourth consecutive March?
With this in mind, three of the four Featured Columnists for Duke basketball here on Bleacher Report joined me for a roundtable discussion about the state of Duke basketball in relation to this year’s NCAA Tournament.
The members of the roundtable include featured columnists Mike Kline, Tyler Lambert, Jon Martin, and myself, Brad Frank, Duke basketball Community Leader.
Each of us answered questions about five intriguing topics in the roundtable.
Knowing that Duke struggled away from home this season, how much does that concern you in this tournament?
Duke struggled away from home primarily in true road games. They were undefeated in neutral court settings, including the ACC Tournament.
In the long run I don’t think it will be a decisive factor. The rims will be as unfamiliar to both teams. Duke is used to less than positive support away from home. I don’t think that will be a factor either.
Given Duke’s struggles this season, the only concern I have in this tournament is Duke’s ability to mount a comeback should they fall behind. At home, Duke has the crowd’s unrelenting support, which often means Duke never falls behind.
However, in these neutral site tournament games, you can’t guarantee that Duke has as easy of a time making a comeback should they fall behind.
Although the Blue Devils started off slow, they eventually found their stride on the road and have continued to show signs of improvement with each passing road game.
Looking toward the NCAA Tournament, I believe Coach K will have all of his players prepared and ready to compete each game, and although they may be playing away from Durham, they will have success once again in March. They already showed that they are going to be dangerous after winning the ACC Tournament this past weekend, so look for this Duke squad to continue their strong play in the NCAA Tournament this week!
Duke finished with a 5-5 road record this year, while going 17-0 at home. Although the Blue Devils are a different team inside of Cameron Indoor, there's plenty of reason to believe Duke will compete well in Jacksonville, Houston, or Indianapolis.
Duke's losses on the road came to some very good teams: Wisconsin, Maryland, and Georgetown. They were only non-competitive in two of those losses, and the Wisconsin loss was largely due to the Badgers simply knocking down contested shots.
Furthermore, Duke has been excellent on neutral courts, going 4-0 on them during the regular season and then winning the ACC Tournament. These wins included a victory over a Georgia Tech team that defeated Duke in Atlanta and a shellacking of then-top-15 Gonzaga.
What will be the key for Duke to advance to the Final Four, considering the nature of its region?
The first key is to get past that 8/9 game. It looks like it could be a matchup with Louisville and that is a team that could give Duke all kinds of trouble.
Duke has to defend and rebound well against those teams in that bracket that could give them fits. Against zones they need to keep attacking it and not settle for just jump shots.
Perhaps the biggest challenge that Duke faces is the unknown about the teams in their region. With most of these teams, I’m really not sure what to expect.
For instance, how good can Purdue be in this tournament without Robbie Hummel?
Not having many certainties in this region tells me that the key for Duke will be to prepare for every opponent very thoroughly. Preparation will lead to execution, and, to lessen the concern about those uncertainties, Duke must take comfort in knowing that it’s hard to beat teams that execute well.
A key factor to watch is the playing time of the "Big Three" of Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer, and Nolan Smith. They each average over 35 minutes a game on the year, and will have to stay healthy if Duke is to have any chance of advancing to the Final Four once again.
Looking at possible matchups for the Blue Devils in the South Regional is a second round contest that could pit Duke vs. Louisville, Mike Krzyzewski vs. Rick Pitino. The Cardinals have size in their frontcourt, talented and experienced guards, and a coach that understands how to motivate his team in big games. All three could spell trouble for Duke.
If the Blue Devils can manage to get past their second round opponent, then they would likely meet Villanova in the Elite Eight. Duke has the firepower, players and personnel, along with a favorable draw, to return to prominence with a Final Four bid.
Whether they rise up to that challenge or not, however, remains to be seen.
The Blue Devils will advance to the Final Four if they can get effective perimeter play. It's a good bet that they'll see Louisville in the second round, and Nolan Smith, Jon Scheyer, and Andre Dawkins will have to defend against the Cardinals' prolific shooters.
Villanova's guards torched Duke in the tournament last year—if Duke sees the Wildcats in the regional final, the Devils will have to play well positionally against Scottie Reynolds and disallow him from getting easy layups.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Dukies have been nearly unbeatable this season when the outside shots fall. Duke has more of an inside game this year than it has in previous seasons, so a good shooting performance from Singler and the guards will bury opponents as long as the Devils' bigs perform decently.
Do you feel Duke deserved not only a No. 1 seed but also the third No. 1 seed overall?
I think if you consider Syracuse hasn’t been playing its best basketball of late and they suffered a key injury then yes.
If you were to consider the struggles Duke has had all year, combined with their recent tournament history, then I can see where some people will be upset considering so much weight was given the ACC Tournament during a relative down year for the league.
I was surprised when Duke was named the third No. 1 seed. Syracuse, West Virginia, and Ohio State all had strong cases to be No. 1 seeds, and until the brackets were revealed I wasn’t entirely convinced Duke was going to be a No. 1 seed.
To answer the question, yes, Duke did deserve as No. 1 seed, but I’m not convinced necessarily that Duke had the third-best season of all of the teams in the country, nor am I convinced that Duke is the third-best team in the country. So, no, I don’t believe Duke deserved the third No. 1 seed, but I do feel the Blue Devils deserved to be a No. 1 seed.
Yes. If you look at Duke's overall body of work, you will notice that they beat several teams that made this year's edition of the NCAA Tournament. They also had the eighth most difficult schedule in the country, and finished second in RPI behind overall No. 1 seed Kansas.
Syracuse, Duke, West Virginia and Ohio State each battled it out for the final two No. 1 seeds, and the Blue Devils and Orange came out on top.
The selection committee, however, gave the Blue Devils the third overall No. 1 seed because of their ACC Tournament title and the Orange's first round loss to Georgetown in the Big East Tournament. Both teams were deserving, and both teams had very strong seasons, but in the end Duke got the nod, and I tend to agree with the selection committee's choice.
Duke is the fourth-best team in the nation right now. Kansas, Syracuse, and West Virginia have performed more impressively this season, but Duke has been more consistent than any of the other teams in the tournament—even Kentucky, who has more athleticism than Duke but has fought so many times this season to beat opponents they should be outclassing in a major way by just a few points.
Duke was certainly deserving of a No. 1 seed, but the fourth No. 1 seed would have been more appropriate. The only other team that could have made a legitimate claim to a No. 1 seed was Kansas State. However, the Wildcats had a bad loss to Iowa State at the end of the season and went 0-for-3 against Kansas, while Duke won its conference tournament and had convincing wins over the ACC's top teams: Maryland, Virginia Tech, and Florida State.
Are you buying the hype that Duke has the easiest road to the Final Four of any No. 1 seed?
On paper they may have an easy road but if you watched some of the teams they may have to play (Louisville, Notre Dame, Purdue, Villanova), then you have to say there are some serious hurdles along the way.
Not at all. To me, Syracuse should be the most comforted of any No. 1 seed in terms of the easiest road to the Final Four. For Duke, starting with Louisville in the second round, I think they could lose in every round except for the first.
Based on a couple upsets taking place, however, Duke’s road could become a lot easier. For example, I have Villanova, Purdue, and Texas A&M losing before the Sweet 16.
So I think Duke’s road to the Final Four could become much easier if a few upsets occur, but as it stands, Syracuse has an easier road to the Final Four than Duke.
Once you glance over the bracket for yourself, it's safe to say that Kansas seems to have the toughest road to the championship.
Kentucky's path to the championship is a little less difficult, but still very tricky.
Duke and Syracuse each have the least difficult paths in my estimation, but I'm going to give the Blue Devils the slight edge in a tougher regional. Although many people believe that the Blue Devils have the easiest road to the Final Four, I would have to disagree and say that the West Regional seems a bit weaker than the South Regional in terms of teams, players, and coaches.
There is no truly "easy" road to the Final Four; if a team advances to the regional final, there will certainly be stiff opposition.
However, I do think this bracket works out in Duke's favor. In the second round, the Blue Devils will face either a California team that was likely overseeded, or a Louisville team that they should beat if they can guard against outside shots.
Texas A&M has improved as the season went on, but only has one convincing win this season (74-58 over Texas) and has been inconsistent all year.
Purdue is a different team without Robbie Hummel and just got blasted by unranked Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament.
Villanova has also stumbled down the stretch and cannot compete with a good rebounding team like Duke.
Baylor is the only team in Duke's bracket that has truly been performing well and could potentially give Duke problems, but are not at the level of teams like Pittsburgh or Georgetown.
In what round do you think Duke has a legitimate chance to lose, and why?
I think there is a legitimate threat in the second round against I believe Louisville. I think they match up well with Duke. They run some zone and are a pretty good rebounding team.
Besides that, I think the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight would be the rounds they most likely would get knocked out prior to the Final Four.
The potential matchup with Louisville in second round scares me, but I picked Duke to move on in that round so the threat is not legitimate enough to take the upset there.
To answer the question, I will say the Sweet 16. Whichever team gets to that point will definitely be playing well enough to beat Duke. I have Utah State and Siena winning their first round games, but neither team scares me enough to prevent me from picking Duke to advance.
However, should either Texas A&M or Purdue advance to the Sweet 16, I would not be surprised at all if they beat Duke. Though I’m picking Duke to advance to the Elite Eight, the Sweet 16 is when I’ll say that I won’t be stunned if Duke is eliminated.
Browsing over the brackets last night, I noticed several opponents that I could see Duke potentially losing to in the long run. Amongst those challenging games is a possible second round matchup with Louisville.
The other possibility I see concerning Duke is a possible Elite Eight contest against Villanova. Jon Scheyer played horribly against the Wildcats last year in Duke's Sweet Sixteen defeat, and if they were to meet again, I'm sure Scheyer would try to make amends for last years upset.
Overall, I believe that the Blue Devils are a legitimate Final Four caliber team. If the big men rise to the occasion, and if the "Big Three" play well, I honestly can see Duke cutting the nets down in about two weeks from now.
Although anything can happen in the tournament, the earliest round in which Duke has a very good chance of being defeated is in the regional final, if they face Baylor. The Bears are probably the most complete team in the region, with good inside/outside play and big-game experience (and wins) against the Big 12's elite. Every other team in the bracket has at least one serious deficiency that Duke is set up to exploit.
Although teams like Louisville and Texas A&M are certainly capable of knocking off the Blue Devils, Baylor clearly presents the most serious threat and bracketheads looking to pick an upset over Duke should hold off until the Elite Eight.
After reading that, certainly you can sense some optimism. A Final Four berth is certainly not out of the question for Duke this year.
But, all of us agree that there are some legitimate roadblocks along the way. If anything, if Duke reaches the Final Four, it will be earned.