Duke Basketball: Soft Schedule Means Blue Devils Won't Be Exposed Till March

Eric BallFeatured ColumnistDecember 13, 2011

DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 18:  Austin Rivers #0 of the Duke Blue Devils dribbles up the court against the Davidson Wildcats during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on November 18, 2011 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Duke Blue Devils have it made…again.

They have played the difficult part of their schedule and are now looking at two games against No. 5 North Carolina and Cupcake City from here on out.

Duke narrowly escaped No. 21 Michigan State and No. 20 Michigan, needed a miracle three-pointer to beat No. 12 Kansas, were utterly dominated in their only loss at No. 2 Ohio State and narrowly avoided an epic collapse against Washington.

Give credit where credit is due. Three wins over ranked opponents is a nice way to start the season, but the problem is they won’t be tested again for almost two months.

The Blue Devils will play UNC Greensboro, Western Michigan, Pennsylvania and Temple before diving into the weak as Christian Latterner’s knees ACC.

Aside from the Tar Heels, the conference has few hurdles. Florida State was ranked to begin the season, but has quickly been dispatched after three early losses. Typical rival Maryland is in full rebuilding mode now that Gary Williams has retired.

Virginia is off to a surprisingly 8-1 start but is playing a schedule that even the Boise State football team would laugh at. Virginia Tech is going to be squarely on the bubble for roughly the 10th year in a row and the rest of the league is mediocre to put it mildly.

I’m not blaming Duke for this turn of events, but it looks like the Blue Devils are set up to be holding a mere 3-or-4 losses come tournament time.

This team is not that good.

The lack of leadership on the Dukies is pretty obvious. Freshman Austin Rivers is not a natural leader and it shows with his shaky play at times in crunch time. That’s the big problem for teams whose best player is a freshman. Nobody is going to listen to him.

Duke is 249th in the nation in rebounding despite having Mason and Miles Plumlee. Their toughness has been lacking. This is an issue that most tournament-bound teams can expose. Their lack of a true playmaking point guard is a concern as well.

Yet it comes back to leadership. The team is littered with sons of former basketball stars and nobody is willing to be that vocal leader. Coach K is in a league of his own, but he can’t replicate a Shane Battier-type in the huddle and locker room.

It’s a glaring issue that will be put on the back burner for the next couple of months, but it’s not going away unless Rivers is able to figure it all out.

I have my doubts.

Duke is not the best team in the nation; in fact they aren’t even top five. But expect them to nab a one seed in the NCAA Tournament, thanks to an easy schedule that will build them up to look like a different team than they really are.

This team looks poised for a Sweet 16 flameout. 


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