Highly Offensive: Duke's Plethora of Scorers Keeping Title Hopes Alive

Justin McTeerCorrespondent IJanuary 29, 2011

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 23:  Ryan Kelly #34 of the Duke Blue Devils congratulates Seth Curry #30 after scoring during the CBE Classic championship game against the Kansas State Wildcats on November 23, 2010 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Duke Blue Devils won their fourth NCAA title last season behind the scoring prowess of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, and Nolan Smith.

Key players like Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas played vital support roles, but the Blue Devils' "big three" scored the vast majority of Duke's points.  In fact, scoring rarely came from anyone else—Andre Dawkins was the only other Duke player outside the star trio to score 20 points in a game all season.

The Blue Devils are poised for another serious title run this year (they will likely be the No. 2 team in the nation once the new polls come out).  Singler and Smith have reprised their scoring duties from last year, combining for just over 38 points per game. 

But unlike last season, Duke is putting points on the board from a variety of players.

Seth Curry became the seventh Blue Devil to score 20 or more points in a game this season against Boston College earlier this week.  He joins Smith, Singler, Dawkins, Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, and Kyrie Irving (currently sidelined indefinitely thanks to the most famous toe injury in college basketball history) on a long list of Duke players capable of putting up big numbers.

To add a little bit of perspective, the Blue Devils are the only team among the nation's likely title contenders to have that many players reach the 20-point mark this season.  Ohio State has five players who have scored 20 or more in a game this season while Kansas, Pittsburgh, Texas, and Missouri have four apiece.  Several other top teams have two or three players to reach that mark.

Even if you take Irving out of the equation (he may not play again this season, after all), the Blue Devils still beat out every other team in the country in terms of 20-point performers.

At the conference level, no other team in the ACC has shown the offensive firepower the Blue Devils have displayed this season.  Heck, North Carolina only has one player (Tyler Zeller) to ever score 20 points in a college game in any season.

While the number of Duke players to reach the 20-point mark is impressive, it doesn't mean that Duke has seven players who are better scorers than the top seven players on every other team. 

Take a player like Syracuse's Brandon Triche, for example.  Triche hasn't scored 20 points in a game this season, but he's scored in double figures in ten of the Orange's last 12 games.  He's certainly a more reliable scorer than Plumlee, who put up 25 points against Marquette but hasn't scored in double figures on a consistent basis.

The same can be said about several players on some of the top teams in the country when compared to some of Duke's less consistent scorers.

But while players like Plumlee, Curry, and Kelly haven't been consistent offensive threats throughout the season, their peak performances are proof that they do have the ability to go off on a given night. 

That means defenses don't have the luxury of forgetting about them, and it's difficult for a defense to be mindful of and prepare for so many scorers.  It certainly makes double teaming a risky strategy, especially when pretty much everyone not named Plumlee is dangerous from behind the arc.

When Irving went down, Duke was the fourth highest scoring team in the nation.  Despite losing his 17 points per game, the Blue Devils are still the NCAA's fourth highest scoring team.

The lack of drop off in Duke's scoring since Irving's injury is a remarkable feat, and one that few (if any) would have predicted once it became clear that Irving was out indefinitely.

If Irving returns, the Blue Devils' offense could very well be too much for any team to handle.

Even if he doesn't return, though, Duke has plenty of offensive firepower left—maybe enough to add another banner in Durham.