Skip to content

Time to take Duke seriously as a Final Four contender

Feb 24, 2012, 12:56 AM EDT

image001

All we’ve talked about all season long is No. 5 Duke’s flaws.

They don’t have a play-making point guard. They don’t have enough of an interior presence. They don’t defend. Austin Rivers will never fit into a team concept.

Its been incessant. And I’m not innocent.

And through all that negativity, the Blue Devils have just kept on winning basketball games. Barring a collapse down the stretch, Duke has an inside track at taking one of the two No. 1 seeds that won’t be going to Kentucky or Syracuse. It may not be that close, either. Seriously, take a look at who the Blue Devils have beaten this season outside of the ACC: No. 6 Michigan State, No. 4 Kansas, No. 11 Michigan, Washington, Colorado State, Davidson, Belmont, Penn, Tennessee. That’s an insanely good non-conference resume.

Their two non-conference losses? At No. 8 Ohio State in early November when the Buckeyes played one of their best games of the season and at Temple, who is as under the radar as any team in the country right now.

And thanks to an impressive, 74-66 win over No. 15 Florida State in Tallahassee — fitting revenge for the three that Michael Snaer hit to beat Duke at the buzzer in Cameron — Duke is tied with North Carolina for first place in the conference and hosts their battle on the final day of the regular season. There is a very real chance that a sweep of the Tar Heels can be added to that resume.

Even if the Tar Heels knock off Duke on March 3rd and even with the flaws that this group has, the Blue Devils have to be considered a threat to make the Final Four after tonight’s performance.

Playing without a point guard like a Phil Pressey, a jitterbug that can get into the paint at will and make any pass to any player at any given time, the Blue Devils still managed to manufacture open looks from three all night against one of the best defenses in the country. Duke went 13-28 from beyond the arc against Florida State, with Andre Dawkins (22 points and 6-9 from three) and Austin Rivers (20 points, 4-8 from three, four assists and four boards) leading the way.

I’ts also worth mentioning that the Blue Devils, who were overmatched inside before being forced to play small as the Plumlees dealt with foul trouble throughout the game, were able to hang with the Seminoles inside. Bernard James got his — 13 points, nine boards, and five blocks — and the Seminoles did grab 16 offensive rebounds, but those are the kind of numbers you expect from FSU.

The fact that Duke held their own with one of the biggest frontlines in the country despite getting just one point and five boards from Mason Plumlee in 17 minutes is a good sign.

We can break down all of the stats we can get our hands on and watch film of every single possession of Duke basketball this season, and while it all may tell us that Duke is an inherently flawed basketball team, there is something to be said for winning. I may be in the minority here, but I firmly believe in advanced statistics and new and improved metrics to evaluate basketball at the same time that I believe in players and teams being “winners” or “clutch”.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: winning is a skill. The confidence to execute in late-game situations and the mental capacity to perform under pressure is a trait that isn’t found in every player or team. Think about it like this: how many players that are good jump-shooters struggle from the free throw line? Its not always about technique. Confidence plays a role, too.

Its the same thing for executing under pressure.

They came back from 10 down in the final two minutes to beat North Carolina. They came back from 20 down in the final 11 minutes to beat NC State. They erased a 17 point deficit to force overtime in their loss to Miami. Most importantly, they are 24-4 on the season and 11-2 in ACC play.

While the reasons behind those big deficits are quite clear, you cannot talk about the Blue Devils without saying unequivocally that this group has put together as many impressive wins as anyone in the country.

And in a season where the field after the top two teams is about as easy to figure out as “Memento” on your first viewing after drinking a six-pack, we need to started talking about Duke as a legitimate Final Four contender.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Latest Posts
  1. Is Jamal Murray considering skipping classes to play for Team Canada?

    Jul 29, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT

    150521calipari Getty Images

    That’s now two of Kentucky’s elite freshmen with concerns looming.

  2. Bruce Pearl on his time at Tennessee: ‘I ran a clean program’

    Jul 29, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    150729 brucepearl Getty Images

    Bruce Pearl was fired by Tennessee for lying about a barbecue.

  3. Five-star 2017 center cuts list … to 13?

    Jul 29, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT

    4_3726139

    See which schools are still in play for one of the top rising juniors

  4. CAA Rookie of the Year transfers to BYU

    Jul 28, 2015, 10:04 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Elijah Bryant will have three years of eligibility remaining.

  5. Arkansas forward Jacorey Williams linked to pair of alleged assaults

    Jul 28, 2015, 8:43 PM EDT

    AP AP

    The Arkansas forward was charged with one count of forgery last week.

  6. Texas Tech commit to attend junior college

    Jul 28, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT

    Kelly Kline/adidas Kelly Kline/adidas

    The three-star forward failed to qualify earlier this month.

  7. Arizona State receives commitment from three-star center Jethro Tshisumpa

    Jul 28, 2015, 6:21 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Bobby Hurley off to a good start in his new gig in Tempe.

  8. John Calipari says 2016 “could be best class ever”

    Jul 28, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Tai Wynyard of New Zealand is the only commit currently in Kentucky’s Class of 2016.

  9. Michigan lands commitment from 2016 guard Ibi Watson

    Jul 28, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    John Beilein gets his third commitment for 2016.

  10. Another mixtape for July’s biggest stock-riser, Wenyen Gabriel (VIDEO)

    Jul 28, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 2.15.47 PM

    If you can do things like this, you can play for Duke or Kentucky.

  11. If the NCAA is correct, Donnie Tyndall is in big, big trouble

    Jul 28, 2015, 3:58 PM EDT

    Donnie Tyndall AP

    The accusations against him include burner phones, hiding IP addresses and his mother’s cell.

  12. Tracy Abrams suffers second season-ending injury in 10 months

    Jul 28, 2015, 1:34 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Abrams was projected as the starting point guard for Illinois.

  13. Ben Howland’s first non-conference schedule at Mississippi State is unimpressive

    Jul 28, 2015, 1:03 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    The Bulldogs aren’t guaranteed to play a top 25 team until SEC play.

  14. Highlights of Bol Bol, 15 year old son of Manute Bol (VIDEO)

    Jul 28, 2015, 10:49 AM EDT

    Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 10.49.06 AM

    He is talented, just don’t call him the next Kevin Durant.

  15. Video tour of VCU’s new $25 million practice facility

    Jul 28, 2015, 10:12 AM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwi3otuyzgqyymy0yzdhm2mzntk2mzg5zmrlnzczm2vm AP

    Will Wade will have a beautiful facility to recruit to.

  16. Kansas, Indiana on opposite sides of 2015 Maui Invitational bracket

    Jul 27, 2015, 8:12 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Potentially four top-25 teams will be in the 2015 field.

  17. Colorado State’s Antwan Scott granted sixth year of eligibility

    Jul 27, 2015, 5:51 PM EDT

    Grambling State Grambling State

    Scott averaged 15.7 points per game for Grambling during the 2013-14 season.