Duke Basketball: What's Wrong with the Blue Devils and Why They Must Win the ACC

Mike KlineAnalyst IMarch 10, 2011

Duke hasn't quite put the finger on its inconsistent and recent poor play.
Duke hasn't quite put the finger on its inconsistent and recent poor play.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

It seems a little silly to feel like Duke must win the ACC tournament, but the Blue Devils really do.

They aren't a team on the bubble and are more than likely not going to get anything lower than a No. 2 seed no matter what happens, but a win for the Blue Devils is most likely still a must.

When you look at how the Blue Devils have been playing, losing two of their last three, including a dud of a performance against rival North Carolina in the ACC regular season finale with that title on the line, there is plenty of reason to be concerned.

Winning this year's ACC tournament isn't just something the team would like to do—it is something it has to do, because, if for no other reason, Duke needs to regain some confidence moving forward. It is still a plenty good team and dangerous enough to make a Final Four run.

Unlike last year's team, however, which wasn't expected to win the title, this year's team, even without a star player, was projected to be a legitimate contender for the title.

So far, the teams, despite many of the same players, couldn't be further apart.

Last year's team was beginning to click on all cylinders at this point in the season. This year's version seems to have wilted as the season has gone on.

Its projected star, Kyle Singer, has been good but not great. Mainly because his scoring has waned at times, and that has put more pressure on Nolan Smith to elevate his game even more than he already has.

The lack of a consistent third scorer, though Seth Curry is showing signs of taking that role, consistent ball movement and interior offense has also plagued Duke down the stretch.

They have always relied on the three-point shot, but when they don't pass the basketball and move without the basketball, it forces poor shot choices at poor times.

Ryan Kelly has lost his shooting touch along with Andre Dawkins. While guys like Dawkins and Kelly flourished at times early in the season, as their shots have stopped falling, the team as a whole has relied more on Smith to be the primary and at times only scorer.

Smith is good but can't do it all alone. It is never a good thing when only one player is moving on offense and four others are watching.

Duke was able to make a championship run last year thanks to the play of its big men. Duke has capable rebounders but hasn't been able to dominate the offensive glass like last year's bigs did.

Offensive rebounds give Duke's shooters second and third looks, and when the shots aren't falling, those extra opportunities are critical. The Blue Devils haven't been getting those with consistency.

Besides its inconsistency on offense, Duke has also lacked the kind of defensive execution that at times made it so good last year.

The Blue Devils pride themselves on defense, and North Carolina embarrassed them last Saturday, beating them up and down the floor. That must improve for Duke to win.

Moving forward, the Blue Devils have to rebuild their confidence, and there is no better place to do it than the ACC tournament.

By winning this year's tournament, Duke would likely get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and restore its confidence, which is an absolute must for a deep run.

Beating anyone for the title would help, but if it meets up again with North Carolina in the title match, a victory over the Tar Heels would go a long way toward restoring confidence not only in the players and coaches, but the NCAA selection committee and Duke fans as well.