Duke Basketball: New Year, New Tournament, Same Doubts About Blue Devils

Mike KlineAnalyst IMarch 15, 2011

Duke, the ACC Champs landed a No. 1 seed but in one of the toughest regions.
Duke, the ACC Champs landed a No. 1 seed but in one of the toughest regions.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Last season, the NCAA selection committee was ruthlessly criticised for giving Duke an easy path to the Final Four.

Despite that supposedly easy path, many experts still picked against the Blue Devils. With every win came more reasons why they would fail, and every opponent clearly had advantages over them.

The end result was a fourth National Title for the Blue Devils.

New year, same results, except this time around the bracket isn't so easy.

There are more reasons to be concerned, seeing as the Blue Devils didn't get the easiest draw and every expert has got a list.

ESPN's Jay Bilas, a regular doubting Thomas when it comes to the Blue Devils, feels they have the hardest route to the Final Four of any top seed.

He may be strongly underestimating how good the East Bracket is, but Bilas is right about the fact that no one can say the Blue Devils were given a clear path this season.

Duke is likely to face a tough matchup in its third-round game against either Tennessee or Michigan. Beyond that, the Blue Devils are looking at a potential Sweet 16 showdown with Texas, a team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation just a few short weeks ago.

After that, UConn or San Diego State could loom large in a battle for the Final Four, if Duke advances that far.

There are other reasons people are doubting Duke, though, besides the strength of the bracket. For starters, the Blue Devils, up until the ACC Tournament, had struggles playing consistently.

They had become too reliant on shooting threes and hadn't been working on defense as well. There wasn't much of an inside game, and they also had to deal with senior star Kyle Singler immersed in a scoring slump.

Those things had many wondering if Duke was on the downward slide. The ACC Tournament cast some of those doubts aside, but others have cropped up.

Just which Duke team will show up?

Will the Mason and Miles Plumlee tandem that dominated North Carolina's inside duo of John Henson and Tyler Zeller show up, or will they be non-factors?

Will Singler be able to score and will backups like Andre Dawkins and Ryan Kelly see a big basket and take some of the scoring pressure off Nolan Smith?

All those questions, and up until their performance in the ACC Tournament, few had answers. So is the Duke team that showed up in Greensboro going to show up in Charlotte and beyond?

Duke fans sure hope so, and the news that star freshman point guard Kyrie Irving practiced with the team on Monday has them all in a buzz that he might return.

Mike Krzyzewski admits there is a chance he could play Friday, but wouldn't say it was a definite. So for now, Duke will be without Irving, whom, if he plays, would likely change the perception of Duke as a title contender.

But even then, there will be doubts, because it is Duke and seemingly no team in America is as analyzed, loved and hated as the Blue Devils.