Last weekend, the reigning national champion Duke Blue Devils ended their regular season with a heartbreaking loss. In a game where the team looked outmatched, Duke lost to rival North Carolina Tar Heels 81-67.
Duke was shorthanded, playing only eight men against a full Tar Heels roster. The difference was reflected in the Blue Devils' shooting. Senior forward Kyle Single was held to eight points on 3-of-14 shooting, and big-man Mason Plumlee missed all four from the field in just 18 minutes of play. All in all, the Blue Devils looked lost.
Can Coach K and his boys recover in time to go far in both the ACC and NCAA tournaments? Well, let's have a look at their season.
Duke finished the season with a 27-4 record, the worst of their losses was to then-unranked St. John's Red Storm. They had conference losses to Virginia Tech and Florida State, but those games were close and thus can't really be considered "bad." The loss to the Tar Heels at season's end can be considered bad luck and, while it is a bad loss, it was by no means a deadly one.
Now, let's look at Duke in the ACC Tournament. They are the No. 2 seed and will face the winner of Thursday's Maryland-NC State matchup. The Blue Devils beat both of those teams twice during the regular season, so they shouldn't have a problem doing it again. Yet, let's look at the keys to victory.
For a team with three top shooters in the starting five, one would think that scoring would be a non-issue. But, there is one way Duke can bounce back from the UNC loss and succeed in both tournaments: share the ball. The fact that the team only registered eight assists the entire game against the Tar Heels is pathetic. One would think that Passing 101 would be a non-issue for a top seeded team.
Two of Duke's top players need to step up in order to be successful. Senior guard Nolan Smith must run the point like a the true leader that he is. He averaged 21.6 points per game along with five assists. That means rebuilding chemistry with sophomore -name position- Seth Curry, who can close games with his dangerous three point shot.
More importantly, Singler must be a force on defense as well. He averaged a little over six rebounds a game this year, but his performance against UNC had many calling him a one-trick pony, in that all he ever really does is shoot. If Duke wants to make another title run, Singler must silence those critics.
So, can the Duke Blue Devils shake off their recent embarrassment to the Tar Heels and make another title run? Absolutely. Mike Krzyzewski is a great coach who utilizes his players well and if I know him and his squad, losing to UNC only made them hungrier.
Expect them to make it to the ACC Final and perhaps be a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If they go into the latter tournament with an ACC Championship under their belts, Duke only becomes more formidable.