One Devil Of A Pick

By - December 22, 2006

National championship picks in December are for suckers. Go on record at your own risk.

But when backed into a corner at various holiday engagements over the past couple weeks I’ve taken Duke and last night’s unpretty victory over No. 22-ranked Gonzaga showed why. Here are five more specific reasons I think the Devils have the juice to play into April:

  • The best defense in the country (or close to it)

    The Blue Devils rank second in adjusted defensive efficiency among the 336 teams in Division I, surrendering just 77.8 points per hundred possessions. Consider that Duke trailed just 21-20 at the break Thursday despite making 7-of-31 shots from the floor — an abysmal 22.6 percent clip — and going close to nine minutes without a made basket. The reason that’s possible is because the Blue Devils play some of the most energetic and fundamentally sound perimeter defense in the business and force the opposition to work (and concentrate) for each and every bucket. It’s as much a mental exercise as a physical one. Make no mistake: This defense is Final Four good on Dec. 22. If the offense catches up in time for March, watch out. But in the meantime the Blue Devils have a defense outstanding enough to weather extended stretches of offensive mediocrity and, in the case of the Gonzaga game, downright ineptitude.

  • The didactic effects of a confection-free schedule

    The casual fan might not bristle at the sight of Duke’s non-conference schedule (which just happens to rank as the second-most difficult OOC slate in Division I), but the youngest Blue Devils team of Krzyzewski’s 28-year tenure has been cutting their teeth on an array of reputable major-conference, mid-major and special-preparation teams. Duke’s last nine opponents ranked in the RPI Top 80 and eight played in last year’s NCAA tournament. (The one that didn’t, Holy Cross, lost to Bucknell in the Patriot League championship game.) Coach K breaks his players down and builds them back up with teeming confidence during November and December — and the youthful Blue Devils will emerge from their baptism by fire as prepared for the rigors of league play as any Atlantic Coast Conference team.

  • Their uncanny ability to get to the charity stripe

    Opponents have recorded more field goals than the Blue Devils in four of their last six contests, but Duke is undefeated over that span. How does that work? Because Krzyzewski’s charges get to the foul line better than any team in college basketball on an annual basis and this season has been no exception. The Blue Devils have demonstrated through the years that they don’t need to make more baskets to beat their opponents — and that’s a great ace in the hole for a team with just one established breakdown scorer (DeMarcus Nelson).

  • The Fantastic Four are steadily improving

    Duke’s good-and-getting-better freshman class — the so-called Fantastic Four — has lived up to advance billing and will continue to improve as ACC play gets underway. Gerald Henderson, Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek are combining to average 28.6 points, 12.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.8 steals for the Blue Devils. While I’ve gushed over the potential of Thomas to be this team’s best player as soon as March, it’s been Scheyer who has emerged as the Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic of the group. The Northbrook, Ill., native put Gonzaga senior Derek Raivio in his pocket Thursday, limiting the seasoned floor general to a season-low four points on 1-for-4 shooting — more than 17 points below his season average. Scheyer also has provided scoring punch on the other end: His 11.1 points per game are good for third on the team and rank first among the first-year players.

  • You don’t know where it’s going to come from

    Last season, the All-American tandem of J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams combined to average 45.6 points — greater than 56 percent of the team’s total offensive output. This year, the Duke offense has proven far less predictable. Where either Redick or Williams was the team’s leading scorer in each of the team’s 36 games in 2005-06, as many as five different Duke players — Nelson, McRoberts, Paulus, Scheyer and Zoubek — have paced the Blue Devils in scoring through just 12 games to date. Remember how Florida fans lamented the loss of David Lee, Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh (which comprised close to three-quarters of Florida’s offense in '04-05) prior to last season? The young Gators left behind rode the team-oriented offensive approach which resulted out of necessity all the way to a national championship. Can the Blue Devils do the same?

Posted by at 12:59 PM on December 22, 2006
Comments (23)


Thank You for seeing the light


Hope you're right...i can see a final four but perhaps a championship is too much to ask

Yeah, you stupid.

You gotta be kidding me...

you either have a.) seen dook play maybe once or twice b.) went to dook and are just as delusional as everyone else that comes out of that school, or c.) are mildly retarded. have a nice day.

I want some of what you're smoking. This Duke team is weak, man.

You must have been drinking when you came to this conclusion. Heavy drinking.

You obviously do not understand basketball.

One of the little things you might not notice about Duke basketball, but which is a telling detail, is that you'll rarely hear anyone call more than one syllable. So it's Shav, Shel, Chris, and so on. It's a smart principle, and a sign of the level of organization the program thrives on: yelling Shelden is less effective and takes longer than yelling Shel. We're not saying Shel is what they call for Shelden, but you get the point. That's an important thing at Duke.

You are one of the worst sports bloggers I've ever read.

what!!!! get real!!! just say no. leave the drugs alone.

The uncanny ability to get to the charity stripe is based on the fact they play almost no OOC games on the road and that Crewzewewski has pays the officials off.

You are an idiot. This team will be lucky to finish mid-table in the ACC and qualify for the NCAA tournament. You talk about Duke's "great defense." It's called fouling. Like all Duke teams, this one gets away with cheap fouls, while getting all of the calls. How else do you explain a perimter-shooting team, with no real inside presense, having that type of free throw disparity?

What planet are you from? How about dook leaving home (and yes that includes New York) and going on the road to play someone tough?

Did Vitale help you out with this analysis? Duke could not even make it out of the round of 16 last year with 2 first team All-Americans. Yes, Duke beat Gonzaga, but Gonzaga is also overrated.

The Zags may be overrated, but they beat the holes and we beat the Zags on the same court!!!

Yup, you're crazy.

Dook's "uncanny ability to get to the charity stripe" is a result of the biased officiating that's been helping them out all these years, nothing more. With teams like Florida, UCLA, UNC, and Ohio State out there, Dook making the final game would pretty much require the most biased officiating ever seen (in short, it would make 2001 seem like nothing). In a fairly officiated game (like that'll ever happen when Dook is involved), I would take Butler or Wichita State over Dook in a heartbeat. Even a struggling, unranked power like Kentucky would likely pound Dook.

Seriously, though: With your lack of credibility, how do you keep your job?

Great analysis moron

You ate paint chips asa kid right?

Wait a minute. It takes 4 highly recruited freshman to average 28 points, 12 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 2.8 steals a game? That's 7 points 3 rebounds, less than .9 assists, and.7 steals per player per game. Not so stellar, buddy, especially for a "fantastic 4." Brandon Wright alone is better.

"There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge"

Great prediction!

Post A Comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

The Sloggers... Links CSTV Basketball Blogs Posts By Site Archives...