It's hard to guess what you are going to get out of the Duke Blue Devils in the NCAA Tournament this year. They could come out cold in their first round game and be upset by UNC-Wilmington, or Luke Kennard, Brandon Ingram, and Grayson Allen could come out firing on all cylinders and their hot hands could carry Duke all the way into the Final Four. Last year, the Blue Devils rode the talents of freshmen Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, and Jahlil Okafor all the way to the NCAA Championship Title.
Duke has truly lived or died by the three pointer this year. Sometimes the only thing keeping them in games is their ability to drain shots from distance. Duke has always been known as a shooting team, but this year they have solely been a three point shooting team. On the rare occasions they've driven to the basket, those chances have either ended with a kick out to an open shooter, or resulted in a pull-up by a shooter. While Coach K has given his team the green light to shoot whenever, he has also reprimanded players for taking low quality shots. An example of this is when he scolded Allen for taking a long three that almost cost them the game against NC State.
Allen and Ingram have not solely been outside shooters, but that is what they have mainly been doing so far this season. Allen, last year's breakout performer in the NCAA Title game, has shot at a .417 mark from deep, and likewise Ingram has shot at a .413 mark from deep. Those are both solid percentages, but it has mainly been the sheer volume they have lobbed up threes has stood out; Allen at 2.5 treys per game, and Ingram at 2.2. They aren't the only ones on the squad who have lit it up, as the freshman Kennard and the junior Matt Jones have averaged 1.5 and 2.3 made threes per game, respectively.
The sophomore Allen has also been successful as a slasher. He has already recieved recognition as one of the premier slashers in the game. Allen is powerful on the way to the hoop and can bulldoze over defenders if need be. The 6'3" Allen, winner of the 2014 McDonalds All-American Slam Dunk Contest, has also showcased major hops on the way to the hoop. Another thing he has excelled at is the ability to draw fouls. Allen has averaged 6.8 free throw attempts per game, and 5.7 makes, for a free throw percentage of .835. He has done all of this to the tune of 21.6 points per game, one of the best marks in both the ACC, and the nation.
While this year's team is nowhere near as talented as last year's, there are certainly similarities between the two. Both this year's team and last year's team have a dearth of depth on their roster; the 2014-2015 Blue Devils played mainly with an eight man roster, and the 2015-2016 Blue Devils have employed a seven man lineup, sometimes even a six man lineup. This has definitely affected the Blue Devils this year, and could hurt them later in the tournament. Another similarity is the reliance on superstar players. The 2014-2015 Blue Devils relied heavily on Jones, Winslow, and Okafor. The 2015-2016 Blue Devils on the other hand, have mainly relied on Allen and Ingram.
The heavy reliance on Ingram and Allen has even hurt the Blue Devils at times. Sometimes when the Blue Devils pass the ball to one of those two, the rest of the team just sits back, relaxes, and expects Allen or Ingram to score and carry the load. This is something that cannot happen come Thursday, as the Blue Devils will need everyone to be contributing in order to go far in the tournament.
As I stated earlier, lack of depth has easily been an achilles heel for Duke this year. Duke has five players who have averaged over 30 minutes per game, and only seven players who have averaged over five minutes per game with a minimum of 25 games played this season. While this has only minorly affected the Blue Devils, it will only affect them more as we get later into March. Depth definitely hurt them in the ACC Tournament as both of Duke's big men, Chase Jeter and Marshall Plumlee, fouled out with plenty of time left in the fourth quarter against Notre Dame. This then promptly stemmed a 16 point comeback by the Fighting Irish to force overtime, in which they eventually won.
Another achilles heel this year for Duke has been their inability to guard down low in the paint. Teams are able to score at ease down low, whether against the Blue Devil zone, or their man to man defense. The Blue Devils' 1-3-1 zone that they have employed on many an occasion this year has been porous against opposing offenses. Opponents have been able to pass the ball around with ease and can wait until a player gets open, in which then, they exploit the zone. The main reasons Duke has stuck with the zone up until this point are that it has helped Duke's players stay rested, and also has helped Duke stay out of foul trouble. Those are two examples of what happens when a team does not have enough depth.
Potential roadblocks for the Blue Devils
Assuming the Blue Devils win against #13 seed UNC Wilmington on Thursay, they will then likely play the #5 seed Baylor. That would be a problem as Baylor is one of the most punishing teams in the paint. Rico Gathers has been especially punishing for the Bears as he averages 9.1 rebounds per game, as well as 1.2 blocks per game. While this would definitely a tough matchup for the Blue Devils, Duke should be able to pull out the win on their way to the Sweet Sixteen.
The Sweet Sixteen would most likely have them matched up against the #1 seed, Oregon Ducks. The selection committee surprised many by choosing Oregon as a #1 seed over teams such as Michigan State, and Villanova. Nevertheless, the Ducks are a strong team, and one that will likely knock out the Blue Devils. The sheer athleticism of the Ducks will be too much for the Blue Devils to manage. It will be tough for the Blue Devils to create good quality shots against the swarming Oregon defense.
Assuming they can somehow beat the Ducks, the Blue Devils would then be in line to play against #2 seeded Oklahoma. The Sooners are one of the best teams in the nation, led by guard Buddy Hield. Hield is arguably the best player in the nation, and someone the Blue Devils can't possibly shut down. It is very unlikely that the Duke makes it past this point.
No matter what ends up happening, it will be exciting to see how far the Blue Devils go and whether they can execute a championship repeat.
All stats courtesy of ESPN.com