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There are numerous teams this year that have the potential to make it to the Final Four in what should be an exciting as usual NCAA Tournament. We will go over some of the favorites to cut down the nets at the end, now with Duke.
Team: Duke Blue Devils
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K)
First Opponent: North Dakota State
KenPom Offensive Efficiency Rating: 6th
KenPom Defensive Efficiency Rating: 7th
Why Duke Can Win It All: Does this really need to be answered? All jokes aside, having the best player in college basketball certainly helps. Freshman sensation and future number one overall pick Zion Williamson is having a historic season with his prolific production on both sides of the court. Williamson hurt his knee in the opening minute against North Carolina in a late February matchup. Williamson was healthy and good to go for the ACC tournament, in which he excelled. The Blue Devils will once again be favored to win the national title if Williamson can continue to play at his pre-injury level. Duke has other freshman studs that can take turns carrying them in the NCAA Tournament. R.J. Barrett is a phenomenal scorer who has improved his playmaking to be more than just a volume scorer. Barrett has taken advantage of Williamson’s absence by assuming more ball-handling and playmaking duties, which has been evident with his improved passing. Tre Jones is one of the nation’s best defenders and gives Duke an enormous advantage by being capable of locking down an opposing team's best perimeter player. The x-factor in all of this for the Blue Devils iis Cam Reddish. Reddish has an unbelievable physical profile with tools that have him projected to be a high-lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. However, Reddish has had extreme bouts of inconsistency with his play and intensity. Reddish is the Blue Devils best perimeter shooter and he will have to make shots come tournament time (more on that later.) Duke is one of the rare teams where they can simply “out-athlete” their competition into victories. The freshman talent for Coach K is so explosive that the Blue Devils can be a horrible jump-shooting team, and still dominate on offense with an unbelievable transition game and an explosive half-court game predicated on one-on-one matchups that result in dribble-dives to the rim. The Blue Devils also use their athleticism to be one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, which results in numerous second-chance point opportunities. A healthy Zion will also recalibrate Duke’s defense. Duke plays an aggressive and switch everything style of man-to-man defense. At times the Blue Devils have absolutely suffocated opponents with their length, contesting shots everywhere and blocking shots at a prolific rate. In fact, Duke is third overall in blocking shots, and fourth overall in causing steals. Simply put, Duke does not allow their opponents to get close to comfortable on offense and exploits weaknesses with their world-class athleticism.
Why Duke Won’t Win It All: I stated above that Duke will need Cam Reddish to likely hit some key three-point attempts, and I say that because someone on Duke will need to hit shots from the perimeter. Duke is not just bad at shooting three-pointers, they are actually awful. Coach K’s freshman may be the best athletes in college basketball, but they are one of the worst teams in the country at three-point shooting, placing in the bottom-25 of three-point shooting percentage. Perimeter shooting is Duke’s achilles heel and is likely to be the biggest culprit if they do not advance far into the tournament. Games are tighter and possessions are limited in the tournament, and the Blue Devil’s opponents will gladly offer three-point attempts so that they don’t lose at the rim or in transition. Unfortunately, Duke has not proven this season that they can consistently win games from the perimeter, and will need to start shooting their best now if they want to become national champions. Having a suffocating defense helps immensely, but Duke’s defense no matter how dominant cannot singularly carry them to a Final Four. Other than shooting, there is not a good reason why Duke cannot make a deep tournament run. Assuming Zion Williamson is healthy than only their three-point execution, or lack thereof, will be responsible for how far Duke goes come tournament time.
By Evan Kurland