Why Talented Duke Can't Be Trusted in the 2018 NCAA Tournament

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMarch 10, 2018

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski gestures during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference men's tournament semifinals Friday, March 9, 2018, in New York. North Carolina won 74-69. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

If talent alone won the national championship in men's college basketball, the Duke Blue Devils would waltz to the 2017-18 crown.

All season long, however, inconsistency has plagued Mike Krzyzewski's team. Friday's 74-69 loss to the North Carolina Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament semifinal showed the wide range of problems.

Duke struggled to rebound. The defense rarely contested shots. Grayson Allen had another cold night, and nobody filled the three-point void. Several players were careless with the ball, and the offense lacked energy throughout the game.

Those issues appear often enough that it's difficult to believe the Blue Devils will even string together four consecutive wins to reach San Antonio, the site of the Final Four.

Chad Lykins of 247Sports succinctly explained Duke's outlook.

In the quarterfinal, the Blue Devils steamrolled Notre Dame with a 55.4 field-goal percentage, 21 assists and only 10 turnovers. They secured 77.5 of available defensive rebounds.

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Marvin Bagley dominated the interior, racking up 33 points and 17 rebounds. Allen scorched the net with a handful of three-pointers in the first half (5-of-6 from three on the night), and Trevon Duval amassed 11 assists.

That version of Duke was nowhere to be found Friday.

Although North Carolina is a dominant team on the glass, the Blue Devils entered the showdown with the fourth-highest rebound rate in the country. Duke still clipped UNC 40-39 in that category, but the Tar Heels secured 18 offensive boards.

Even with a meager seven second-chance pointsside note: that's horrendous, UNCthat activity shortened the game in a meaningful way. The more possessions Duke has, the more likely it's going to win.

The Blue Devils sloppily losing the ball throughout the night compounded that problem. They finished with 18 turnovers, tied for the second-most in any game this season.

Duke has now committed 16-plus turnovers seven times and is 2-5 in those contests. The only two victories happened opposite South Dakota and Miamiwhich coughed up a 13-point lead because of its dreadful efficiency against zone defenses.

Incidentally, Krzyzewski switched to zone exclusively when troubles on defense finally became unbearable in mid-February. Abandoning man-to-man sparked a surge and is still probably the best option for Duke. That doesn't mean it's a great one.

UNC's trio of Luke Maye, Kenny Williams and Theo Pinson put on a clinic of how to pick apart the zone.

Maye knocked down five jumpers near the free-throw line. He also created a 15-footer for Williams, who dished four assists to that area. Pinson calmly distributed and attacked the rim while positioned in the middle.

If the Blue Devils encounter a team with a stretch forward who's also a capable passer, they have a huge problem. An offense that flows through the free-throw line will dismantle a zone.

And that's simply one issue. ESPN's Jonathan Givony shared a couple of ugly stats about Duke's defense.

That deficiency showed especially when the pace increased and the Blue Devils scrambled to follow the ball but didn't rotate properly. They were fortunate UNC missed several wide-open threes.

Hoping the other guy misses isn't sustainable defense. And if an NCAA tournament opponent is hitting, Duke better be following suit. That pressure largely falls on Allen, who started 1-of-5 from three and finished 4-of-10. The rest of the team went 2-of-13.

Gary Trent Jr. must provide a shooting threat, and even two combined threes from Bagley and Carter would be a consequential boost.

Trent buried one triple in an important moment as part of a 13-2 run during the closing 5:34, so it wasn't all terrible. That stretch where the Blue Devils trimmed the gap from 16 to three showed the Blue Devils' firepower; they're not 26-7 by accident.

Plus, once the bracket is released, it might reveal an exceptionally favorable draw. Stating the ACC powerhouse has no absolutely chance in the Dance would be unwise.

But there's an important distinction between being talented and trusted.

Duke hasn't earned the latter.

     

Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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