When freshman guard Austin Rivers sank a three-pointer at the buzzer to knock off the No. 5 North Carolina Tar Heels on the road on Wednesday night, it was certainly a jubilant moment for Duke fans. Hidden in that joy, however, were the many weaknesses North Carolina exposed.
With an overall record of 20-4 and a share of the ACC lead at 7-2, the Blue Devils obviously have to be considered national championship contenders at this point. At the same time, though, there are a ton of things that need to be rectified moving forward.
Duke's biggest issue is its interior defense. The Plumlee brothers are adequate inside, but against elite teams with offensively-gifted bigs, they can be manhandled. Jared Sullinger and the Ohio State Buckeyes did it earlier in the season, and the Tar Heels did it on Wednesday.
The Blue Devils didn't have an answer for Tyler Zeller, as he poured in 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Luckily for Duke, though, the Tar Heels have some defensive shortcomings in their own right, so it allowed the Blue Devils to battle back from a deficit late and edge North Carolina, 85-84.
Defense is an all-around issue for Duke, but the No. 10 scoring offense in the nation often makes up for it. The Blue Devils have spectacular guard play thanks to Rivers, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins. Guard play can obviously take a team a long way in college basketball, but Duke's issues in the paint will ultimately come back to haunt it.
There's certainly a chance the Blue Devils will have to meet Ohio State again in the tournament, and if they do, there is no indication that they have an adequate strategy for stopping him. The same can be said of the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats, as they have a couple of dominant post players in Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Poor free-throw shooting is another thing that plagues the Blue Devils. Duke shot just 65 percent from the stripe against North Carolina, so in a lot of ways the Blue Devils are fortunate that they didn't give away the game with such an awful display.
It's also well documented that free-throw shooting did Duke in in its previous game against Miami. The Blue Devils lost that game in overtime as they missed all six of their shots from the charity stripe in the extra session. That is precisely the type of thing that can cost a team come tournament time.
Beating the Tar Heels was certainly a quality win for Duke, especially since it was on the road, but it doesn't make the Blue Devils a title favorite by any means. There are teams with far fewer flaws than Duke right now, and if the Blue Devils can't find a way to cure their ills, then I wouldn't bet on them making a deep tournament run.