Conference: ACC (Auto-Bid)
Record: 26-8 (11-7)
NCAA Tournament Seed: 2 (East)
How they got to the Big Dance
After signing arguably the best freshman class this season, the Blue Devils were ranked No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches Polls in the preseason. Duke lived up to that ranking in non-conference play, sporting a 12-1 record with wins over Rhode Island, Michigan State and Florida, and its only loss coming to Kansas by two points. The Blue Devils, however, were decimated by injuries, and started just 3-4 in ACC play. Then, after righting the ship and winning seven games in a row, Coach K’s team struggled down the stretch, losing three of four to finish the regular season. Duke found its groove again in the ACC Tournament, defeating Clemson, Louisville, and North Carolina on its way to to the ACC Championship game. The Blue Devils then defeated Notre Dame to clinch the ACC’s automatic bid.
Why they’re a legitimate contender
Duke has many weapons that can score, which is why they were ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls. The Blue Devils shoot 47.3 percent from the field as a team and score 80.8 points per game. Freshman phenom Jayson Tatum has finally started to figure it out offensively in the second half of the season, and has become one of the biggest matchup nightmares in the ACC. Tatum, along with the hot shooting of Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen, has made Duke again very hard to contain on the perimeter. The scariest part about the Blue Devils is that they may have not have even hit their full potential. Freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, who both came in as highly-rated recruits, have not been able to stay on the floor, and neither is averaging even five points or more than 12 minutes per game. If those two freshmen can figure it out, Duke will be one of the favorites in March.
Why they’re not a legitimate contender
Despite all of the talent, Duke has still not been able to figure it all out this season. Giles and Bolden have underperformed, but have also struggled with injuries, as has most of Duke’s roster. Giles, Allen, Tatum, Frank Jackson and Amile Jefferson have combined to miss 25 games, while Coach K missed more than a month after back surgery. If the injury problems weren’t a big enough distraction, the antics of Allen definitely were. The junior guard was again caught tripping multiple players this season, and this time he received a one-game suspension. After the suspension, with all eyes in the college basketball world on him, Allen has still not been able to contain himself. He has been involved in other questionable on-court incidents and picked up a technical foul in a key spot in Duke’s ACC Tournament win over Clemson. If Allen slips up again, it could cost the Blue Devils in a close game.
Player to watch: Guard Luke Kennard
With all of the issues Duke has faced this season, sophomore guard Luke Kennard has been the one consistent performer. He is averaging a team-high 20.2 points per game, and shooting 44.4 percent from 3-point range. Kennard has the ability to get hot from long range at any time, and he is so dangerous because he can create his own shot from any spot on the floor. Duke’s offense has gone as Kennard has gone this season, and they seem to struggle when he goes cold. If Kennard can heat up for the tournament, Duke will be tough to stop.
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