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Duke shows qualities of a champion in first tourney game

Mar 22, 2013, 2:38 PM EST

Duke v Albany Getty Images

Duke beat Albany 73-61. Big deal, right?

You’d better believe it’s a big deal to a team that got bounced by C.J. McCullom and the Lehigh Mountain Hawks in a similar seeding situation last year. Missouri didn’t learn the lessons of 2012, so it’s meaningful to note that Duke did.

This year, the Duke machine was well-oiled, tuned up and purring. They showed exactly why they deserved a No. 1 seed. That honor went, instead, to Gonzaga, who came oh-so-close to being the first 1-seed to lose to a 16 when they narrowly edged the Southern Jaguars last night. Duke showed how it’s done, romping over a 15 seed with a big second-half run.

I wrote earlier this week that Louisville will not win the national title. The inclusion of Duke in their bracket was the primary reason I gave. Discussing brackets with my college-hoops-mad buddy Stormy last night, I said of Duke: “If you asked me to design a team that could win a national title, that’s what it would look like.”

I’ll elaborate. Duke has a point guard, Quinn Cook (nine assists, one turnover today), who likes to distribute. That’s where everything starts. Cook could probably score a few more points per game, but it’s crucial to the Blue Devils’ success that he’s not obsessed with doing so. When he’s looking for someone to dish to, here’s what he sees:

Seth Curry, a pure shooter who can also handle the ball well enough to get his own shot.

Rasheed Sulaimon, a freshman wing who loves to drive the lane.

Ryan Kelly, who can and will hit a bucket anywhere from one to twenty-four feet from the hoop.

Mason Plumlee, a big body with soft hands, a variety of moves and the smarts to know how to use them.

Defensively, the Blue Devils became top-notch once again when Kelly came back from a foot injury that cost him half the season.

So, if you’re an opposing coach, what do you game-plan to stop? You can’t stop all of it, so you end up in a game of Poison Cup with Mike Krzyzewski, who has been playing and winning since you were in high school, in all likelihood.

Now, Rick Pitino may be able to gain the upper hand if the anticipated Louisville-Duke game comes to be, because you never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line. But I’m not sure anyone else in the Midwest Bracket has the goods.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

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