The Duke Blue Devils are poised to become the 2010 college basketball national champions, even though they have not experienced success in March in quite some time.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski is one of the greatest coaches in basketball history, owning an NCAA-record 73 tournament victories to go along with 10 Final Four appearances in his career (third most all-time).
He has developed this year's edition of the Blue Devils into serious contenders for the national title and has had his players prepared to succeed since their first round game against play-in game winner Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Duke has had its share of success during the season, sharing the ACC regular season title with the Maryland Terrapins and winning the ACC Tournament last weekend in Greensboro, but has not succeeded in March for the past few years.
That should change this tournament, as the Blue Devils have dominated their first two opponents by using outstanding defense and countering with a potent motion offense that can kill teams if they don't defend it properly.
There's no doubting Duke this March, and here are five reasons why the Blue Devils are destined to make it to Indianapolis and leave with the national championship under their belt.
In Duke's opening round blowout against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, it was difficult to see how well the Blue Devil big men have been playing down the stretch for Coach K and his staff.
Against the California Golden Bears, however, the frontcourt play proved to be a difference maker: Duke marched into the Sweet 16 with a 68-53 victory, thanks in "large" part to senior Brian Zoubek's 14-point, 13-rebound performance.
Fellow classmate Lance Thomas, sophomore Miles Plumlee, and freshman Mason Plumlee combine to give the Blue Devils size, athleticism, and depth to a once depleted frontcourt from just one year ago.
Jon Scheyer struggled from the field against the Golden Bears, hitting just one of his 11 field goal attempts, but the big men more than did their part in helping Duke dismantle California.
Last year at this time, the Blue Devils would have no post presence to pass the ball to down low, making Duke a one-dimensional team. But now that the Blue Devils have four legitimate big men, they have become a lethal rebounding squad and can score on the low block.
This much-needed upgrade in size and depth has now made Duke a serious contender for the NCAA championship, and they should not be overlooked in the following games to come!
One major statistic that stuck out to me in Duke's second round game against California was their three-point shooting: It was nonexistent. They were consistently missing open looks, and the shots were not falling.
During the past few seasons with the Blue Devils, the team would have gone into "panic mode" and would have continued to shoot the ball from beyond the arc in hopes that they would regain their shooting touch.
This Duke squad, however, never loses focus if their shots from the perimeter aren't falling.
The Blue Devils were just 3-of-17 from long range in their 15-point win over the Golden Bears, with star Jon Scheyer connecting on just one of his eight attempts.
They shook off those misses, however, by passing the ball into the post for one of their big men to get a close-range shot. This effective strategy not only gave Duke the win, but a comfortable win at that.
Last season, Duke also shot 18 percent from three-point territory in an NCAA tournament game, but with a different result: Against Villanova, the Blue Devils got blown out by 23 points in the Sweet 16 after struggling to hit long-range shots for the entire course of the game.
So you see what difference a season makes, what talented big men do for this Duke team, and how the Blue Devils can overcome adversity and win without knocking down three-pointers.
This aspect makes Duke lethal on offense and is another reason why the Blue Devils are destined to win the national title.
Three starters on Duke's basketball team this season are seniors. The other two players, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, are both juniors. Not to mention that their Hall-of-Fame coach is sitting on the sideline devising a game plan against you.
That is what opposing teams have had to deal with this year heading into games with the Blue Devils: experienced players and experienced coaches everywhere you turn.
All-ACC First Team selection Jon Scheyer is prepared to end his college career with a Final Four appearance in Indianapolis, hopefully cutting down the nets in about a week or two.
Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek are also playing some of the best basketball of their careers heading into the latter stages of their days playing for national powerhouse Duke.
Zoubek, in particular, has stepped up in his final games for the Blue Devils, giving Duke an authoritative figure in the paint. Thomas, well-noted for his play on defense, has also stepped up his intensity as the season has progressed, both hoping to go out with a bang.
Although experienced teams have fallen early in the tournament (Kansas, Georgetown, and Villanova), the Blue Devils' older players have put the team on their backs and have led Duke once again to the Sweet 16.
How far they can continue to carry the Blue Devils is uncertain, but the experience factor alone gives Duke a great advantage as they try for their fourth national championship in school history.
The top scoring trio in the country, a backcourt of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, and Nolan Smith, are teammates at Duke. They each have made their mark on the program this season, and they have played unselfish basketball throughout the year.
These three players have come to be known as "The Big Three" on Tobacco Road, and they each display certain qualities and skills that have helped Coach Krzyzewski's team win during the regular season and postseason.
In every game this year for Duke, Scheyer and Smith have consistently scored from the perimeter and free-throw line. They both rank as two of the best free-throw shooters in the ACC, and each has proven to be a great ball-handler in pressure-packed situations.
Singler, on the other hand, has made his living from the paint and has recently regained his three-point shooting accuracy to give the Blue Devils another lethal long-range shooter.
"The Big Three" are experienced, talented, and poised to make a deep run in the tournament for the first time in their respective careers. They have carried the burden for Duke on offense and have each played a tremendous role on the defensive side of the ball.
Of the remaining teams in the tournament, none of those left have a three-headed attack like that of the Blue Devils. When the games get closer, Duke has three options to go for one final shot.
This legitimate triple threat gives the Blue Devils an added dimension that no other team in the tournament possesses (besides perhaps Kentucky and Syracuse) and is another key reason why Duke is destined to win the title!
Many people believed that Duke's placement in the South Regional was unfair, that Syracuse deserved the third overall No. 1 seed, and that the Blue Devils simply got their seeding because of the history of the program.
Well, those who doubted Duke at the beginning of the tournament must not feel too smart now.
The Blue Devils have performed just as a No.1 seed should in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, with workmanlike wins over Arkansas-Pine Bluff and California to advance to the Sweet 16 once again.
The Midwest Regional, once slated to be the toughest, has definitely turned out to be one of the most difficult parts of the bracket to score a win: Overall No. 1 seed Kansas and No. 3 seed Georgetown were both upset early by two very talented and low-seeded teams.
No. 1 seed Syracuse has held its own in the West Regional, even without talented big man Arinze Onuaku in the lineup, and the No. 1 seed Kentucky Wildcats in the East Regional have stormed by their competition to reach the Sweet 16.
Looking at the bracket, it seems that No. 1 seed Duke has the easiest path to the Final Four right now: No. 4 seed Purdue is up next, and the winner of that game faces the winner of No. 3 seed Baylor vs. No. 10 seed St. Mary's in the Elite Eight.
If the Blue Devils can make it out of the South Regional, it would seem to me that they would be the freshest of the top seeds concerning competition played before arriving in Indianapolis.
Still, a lot has to happen before we can make that assumption, but ultimately Duke has a great chance to make it to the Final Four for the first time since 2004 and compete for the national championship.
The Blue Devils are destined to win; now, can they overcome their flaws, play as a team, and ultimately have enough poise to make a run for the title?