Skip to content

Time to take Duke seriously as a Final Four contender

Feb 24, 2012, 12:56 AM EST

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. UNLV commit Derrick Jones could win the NBA dunk contest (VIDEO)

    Dec 21, 2014, 11:09 PM EST

    Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 11.05.11 PM

    Yeah, you’re going to want to see this.

  2. BYU, Oklahoma among eight teams to participate in 2015 Diamond Head Classic

    Dec 21, 2014, 10:31 PM EST

    Lon Kruger AP

    Four of the eight teams in the field reached the NCAA tournament last season.

  3. Late Night Snacks: No. 6 Virginia, No. 17 Maryland pick up wins

    Dec 21, 2014, 8:22 PM EST

    VMI v Maryland Getty Images

    Virginia limited Harvard to 27 points, Maryland won at Oklahoma State, and Georgia picked up a solid home win.

  4. No. 17 Maryland moves to 11-1 with win at Oklahoma State

    Dec 21, 2014, 7:04 PM EST

    Jake Layman AP

    Could the Terps be the second-best team in the Big Ten? At the very least they’ve earned their place in the conversation.

  5. ACC suspends Louisville junior forward Montrezl Harrell one game

    Dec 21, 2014, 5:31 PM EST

    Ohio State v Louisville Getty Images

    Harrell was assessed a flagrant 2 foul in Saturday’s win over Western Kentucky.

  6. South Carolina coaching staff dons special holiday sweaters (PHOTO)

    Dec 21, 2014, 4:42 PM EST

    Frank Martin (Scott Phillips) Frank Martin (Scott Phillips)

    Coaches donning festive holiday sweaters doesn’t happen all that often in college basketball.

  7. Brad Stevens on Indiana speculation: ‘I’m the head coach of the Boston Celtics. This is the job.’

    Dec 21, 2014, 3:46 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Brad Stevens left Butler in 2013, agreeing to a six-year deal with the Boston Celtics, but that will not stop his name being linked to one specific college job.

  8. New Year’s Resolutions: Ohio State Buckeyes

    Dec 21, 2014, 3:01 PM EST

    AP AP

    The Buckeyes are 9-2, dropping both of their key non-conferences games against ranked opponents.

  9. Harvard’s first half offensive struggles tie unwanted NCAA record

    Dec 21, 2014, 1:43 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Harvard did not set the record for lowest field goal percentage or lowest first-half points, but the Crimson did tie an NCAA record on Sunday afternoon.

  10. Jim Boeheim and Jay Wright want to keep Syracuse-Villanova rivalry going

    Dec 21, 2014, 1:15 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The Orange and Wildcats have split a home-and-home series since the old Big East disbanded several years ago.

  11. Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell apologizes for ejection (VIDEO)

    Dec 21, 2014, 11:15 AM EST

    AP AP

    The Louisville forward spoke about the incident that took place at the end of the first half against Western Kentucky following the game.

  12. Ben Simmons throws an alley-oop to himself off the backboard (VIDEO)

    Dec 21, 2014, 10:00 AM EST

    Kelly Kline/Under Armour Kelly Kline/Under Armour

    The nation’s top recruit also dropped 37 points in a win for Montverde Academy (Florida)

  13. No. 16 Washington hangs on to beat No. 15 Oklahoma in Las Vegas

    Dec 21, 2014, 12:10 AM EST

    Lorenzo Romar Lorenzo Romar

    With pieces that fit together better than last season’s 17-15 squad, the Huskies are off to a 10-0 start.

  14. George Mason beats preseason MAAC favorite Iona (VIDEO)

    Dec 20, 2014, 10:26 PM EST

    George Mason Patriots vs the Old Dominion Monarchs George Mason Patriots vs the Old Dominion Monarchs

    George Mason’s last win over a Division I opponent prior to Saturday came against another MAAC program, Manhattan, on November 29.

  15. POSTERIZED: Notre Dame’s Demetrius Jackson dunks on Purdue 7-footer (VIDEO)

    Dec 20, 2014, 9:00 PM EST

    Demetrius Jackson (AP Photo) Demetrius Jackson (AP Photo)

    Jackson scored 22 points, with two coming on an emphatic dunk on Purdue freshman Isaac Haas.

  16. Late Night Snacks: Villanova survives Syracuse while UNC, SMU get big wins

    Dec 20, 2014, 8:41 PM EST

    Jayvaughn Pinkston (Getty Images) Getty Images

    It’s already been a busy day in college hoops, with two buzzer-beaters and two ranked teams already going down.

  17. Chris Thomas, Malcolm Riley lead Texas Southern past No. 25 Michigan State

    Dec 20, 2014, 7:57 PM EST

    Mike Davis Mike Davis

    While Michigan State’s 4-for-21 night from three didn’t help matters, Texas Southern shot better than 53 percent from the field.

  18. Report: Former Marquette guard/forward transferring to Iowa State

    Dec 20, 2014, 7:18 PM EST

    Deonte Burton, Tim Coleman Deonte Burton, Tim Coleman

    Burton was one of two sophomores to leave the Marquette program earlier this month.

  19. No. 1 Kentucky dismantles UCLA

    Dec 20, 2014, 5:46 PM EST

    kentucky ucla AP

    Kentucky completely embarrassed UCLA on Saturday.