NCAA Bracket 2011 Predictions: 10 Reasons Why Duke Is Destined to Repeat
Don't doubt the Blue Devils.
Many made that mistake last year and ended up paying dearly in the office bracket pool.
While it may be tempting to go for a powerhouse like Kansas, a seemingly unbeatable team like Ohio State or a power conference favorite like Pitt, here are 10 reasons why Duke will be the final team standing on April 4.
Duke sent a message to the world in the ACC tournament: We're no one-man band.
In what amounted to a complete reversal of fortunes for everyone not named Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, Duke distributed the ball like champs on its way to a third straight ACC championship last weekend.
Against Maryland, five Duke players scored in double figures. Seven different Blue Devils scored at least six points in the championship game against North Carolina.
Against the Tar Heels, Nolan Smith did what he does, racking up 20 points, but he also showed flashes of what he can do as a point guard, dishing out 10 assists for a backcourt double-double.
If Duke is firing on all cylinders on offense, it'll be virtually impossible to beat.
If you wonder exactly what Duke's defense can do to a star player, just ask Harrison Barnes.
Only a day after Barnes set a freshman scoring record in the ACC tournament against Clemson with 40 points, Duke smothered the shooting guard, holding him to 6-of-15 shooting, including just 1-of-4 from three-point range and a modest (for Barnes, the way he's been playing as of late) 16 points.
The Devils did the same to Virginia Tech's Jeff Allen on Saturday. Allen torched Duke for 18 points in their matchup earlier this season in Blacksburg.
Saturday? Allen had a measly two points. Two.
If there's anything that can stop a player like Kemba Walker—whose UConn Huskies seemed destined for an Elite Eight berth—it's the defensive prowess of the Blue Devils.
Duke just plain owns tournaments.
Set aside for a second that Duke is the defending national champion. Been there. Done that.
Chew on this stat for a second. The Blue Devils have won 10 out of the last 13 ACC tournaments. That's a ridiculous 77 percent success rate in one of the toughest conference tournaments year in and year out.
This year, Duke won the preseason CBE Classic tournament. Last year, the preseason NIT tournament. The year before that? The Coaches vs. Cancer Classic tournament.
Bottom line: There is no college basketball team that has had more success in the tournament environment over the last 10 years than the Duke Blue Devils.
Seniors win championships.
Think Duke with Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas. Think North Carolina with Tyler Hansbrough. Seniors help win championships.
No team in the field has two seniors with more NCAA tournament experience than Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler. Don't forget Singler was the Most Outstanding Player of the 2010 Final Four as the Blue Devils took home the crown.
Kid can play.
Nolan Smith is one of the front runners for National Player of the Year after averaging 21.3 points and 5.1 assists per game. But it's not just his stats that impress. Watch Smith on the court and you'll see a slashing, attacking player with the capability of drawing fouls and getting opposing guards in trouble early in the game.
Then there's the defensive end, arguably the most underrated aspect of Smith's game. Time after time, he's shut down opposing teams' point guards and disrupted the flow of the other team's offense.
Smith is the prototypical game-changer a championship team needs to make a deep run come tournament time.
Plumlees Stepping Up (Don't Forget Ryan Kelly)
At times, the Plumlee brothers have been less than impressive this season, going oh-fer on several occasions. Sophomore Mason was in a horrible free-throw shooting slump in the middle of the season.
But don't blink, because you might just miss the complete transformation of the Duke front line at the end of the year for the second season in a row.
Last year, Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas turned into offensive rebounding machines, giving Duke tons of second-chance opportunities and helping them bury opponents on their way to the national championship.
The Plumlees and sophomore Ryan Kelly have been doing their best Zoubek/Lance Thomas impression as of late on both ends of the floor. In the ACC tournament, the trio averaged a combined 25 points and 15 rebounds per game.
That just may be the spark Duke needs to put together six wins in a row in March and April.
Duke tends to live by the three and die by the three.
But lately, the Devils have been absolutely feasting by the three.
Against the Tar Heels, Duke buried nine out of 20 treys. Seth Curry can hit it from practically the half-court line, and Andre Dawkins can pull the trigger in a heartbeat.
Don't forget, Duke struggles the most shooting the three on the road in hostile environments. But from here on out, it's all neutral-court territory, where the Blue Devils thrive from behind the arc.
What was that about a neutral court? That's right—it's where Duke shines.
Sure, Duke sometimes struggles on the road in the din of opposing teams' screams and cheers. But in the neutral-court environment, Duke only seems to play better.
Consider for a moment this juicy tidbit: Duke hasn't lost on a neutral court since 2009, against Villanova in the Sweet 16. That's a total of 20 straight neutral-court wins.
The Legend: Coach K
You may not like him, but you must respect the man's record.
Coach K's about to make history, and he could make it in a most interesting fashion. Mike Krzyzewski now stands at 898 wins. His mentor, Bob Knight, holds the all-time record at 902.
That means if Duke can make it that far, Duke would tie Knight with a win in the Elite Eight. That will set up Coach K to pass Knight on the biggest of all stages in the Final Four.
Krzyzewski has more Final Four appearances, Elite Eight appearances and total NCAA tournament wins than any other active coach.
The "X" Factor: Kyrie Irving
Every championship team has some sort of "X" factor that ends up setting it apart from the field.
For Duke, this could very well come in the form of one of the most sensational freshmen to burst upon the college scene in recent years and a potential future No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.
After Sunday's ACC tournament championship in Greensboro, N.C., Irving said a return to the Blue Devils during the NCAA tournament is "definitely possible."
The Duke staff has been incredibly tight-lipped about Irving's status up until now, so the new verbiage is quite encouraging for Duke fans.
Duke without Irving is certainly capable of running the table. But Duke with Irving? That could be something special to watch.