Why Duke Will Win the National Championship
Oh, come on, you knew this was coming. You knew it when I first started hyping Duke games back in November. You knew it when I started re-Tweeting Nolan Smith's post-practice updates. You knew it when I wrote that the late-season loss to Maryland was the best thing that could have happened to the Blue Devils. So yes, I'm picking Duke to cut down the nets in Indianapolis on April 5, and, yes, you're probably thinking right now that you have one less serious competitor in our BroBible.com Pick'Em Tournament Challenge (go, join our group, now!). Well, if you want a reasoned, unbiased breakdown of all the brackets, check out Mr. T's East, South, Midwest, and West region analyses. But since I'm the editor of this damn site, and since someone out there needs to state the case for Duke, I'm offering up my five reasons why I think the Blue Devils will win the National Championship.
Reason #1: Because I'm a Duke fan.
Let's get this out of the way. Yes, of course I'm biased. But I wasn't always this way. I arrived on Duke's campus in the fall of 2000 with not much allegiance to the Blue Devils. I remember listening to the Laettner shot on the radio on a family car ride (I think we pulled over to listen to the final minute, that's how good of a game it was). Then, a couple years later in my youth basketball league, my team took Duke as its team name, and I still have the EastBay blue-on-white jersey to prove it. That was about it. If anything I was a Big East fan growing up, owing to my parents' alma mater (Syracuse), my older brothers' favorite team (Georgetown), and my hatred of UConn (I guess that was also the early Cameron Crazie in me). And then I got to Durham. Nearly eight months later, I had tented in Krzyzewskiville for two weeks (only to watch Shane Battier, my all-time favorite Blue Devil, commit a silly foul in the final seconds and more or less cost us the game against Carolina); I had watched Jason Williams score lead a 10-point, 53-second comeback to force overtime in Maryland; and I had witnessed my first National Championship. What happens when you win the title your freshman year at Duke is that you think the team will win the title every year. Anything less is a bitter disappointment. This year is no different. As a diehard Duke fan, I believe that if all the stars align — which they need to for any team in any sport to win any championship — the Blue Devils have the team to win a fourth NCAA banner. Really, though, that's the way all fans of the top-seeded teams feel. Most die-hard Kentucky, Kansas, and Syracuse fans think this is their year. Ask a K-State, OSU, WVU, or 'Nova fan and they'll tell you the same thing: 'Yeah, we can do it. We really can.' The Baylor faithful and probably most Hoyas have charted paths in their hearts and on their brackets to Indianapolis. And that's what March Madness should be about. Believing in your team and believing that when your team needs to rise to the occasion they will. And so it is with Duke and me.
Reason #2: The Three 'S's will show up when they need to.
Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer, and Nolan Smith are the highest scoring trio in the country this season (as if you hadn't heard), and when all three of them are hitting their shots, they truly are unstoppable. That said, you can probably count on one hand (plus an extra few fingers at the most) the number of games this season in which all three have shot lights out together. The good news is that you don't need all three to play at their max potential on the same night in the first few rounds of the tournament. In Friday night's match-up against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, all you need is one. Against California or Louisville, you need two; ditto for the Sweet 16 round. An Elite 8 game against Baylor or Villanova will require two and a half, meaning one of the three can be cold as ice in the first half but give a solid 10 or 12 minutes in the second to help scrape out a win. Thankfully, that's what's been happening lately for this team. Everyone thought Kyle Singler was a first-team All American candidate at the beginning of the season, but he's finally started to show that caliber of performance in the last dozen games or so. He was the ACC Tournament MVP for a reason. Jon Scheyer is good for a clutch three even when he's been tossing up bricks all night (which is uncommon in the first place); he hit a huge shot from behind the arc with 18 seconds left in the ACC Final to keep Georgia Tech at arm's length. Add to that a top 5 assist-to-turnover ratio and you've got a court commander who not only averages 18.6 PPG but who you can trust with the ball even when he's having an off game. And then there's Nolan Smith, who's averaging 17.3 PPG (up from just over 8 last season), and who knows when to drive to the basket and get a key bucket in tight spots. To beat Kentucky or West Virginia in the Final Four, and then likely Kansas or Syracuse (or OSU, G'Town, or K-State) in the Finals, Duke will require a three-man, all-out attack. They all need to shoot lights out. They don't need to do it for the first four games, but on the biggest stage of their careers, Singler, Scheyer, and Smith all need to show up. And I think they will.
Reason #3: We have big men, they just don't score a lot, and that's OK.
In one five-game stretch in February, Brian Zoubek pulled in 17 rebounds, 16 rebounds, 11 rebounds, 13 rebounds, and 13 rebounds. Add in six blocks and seven steals over the same period and you've got a 7'1″ center who is a major presence in the paint and knows his role on this team. What happens if he gets into foul trouble? You've got Lance Thomas and Miles and Mason Plumlee clogging up the middle, grabbing key boards, and, with Zoubek, contributing an average of 19.5 points per game. Coach K is always getting knocked for not having enough big men, but you can't say that about this squad. True, there's no Shelden Williams or Carlos Boozer among them — they're not huge post players who you can easily dump the ball down into. But when you've got the three S's, a big man is not going to get that many shots in the first place. What happens if the S's are cold? You'd be surprised how capable the Plumlees are of putting the ball in the basket, and on the same night that Zoubek pulled in 17 boards against Maryland, he also scored 16 points. As far as defense goes, they've come a long way since they let Greg Monroe and the rest of the Hoyas embarrass them in front of the President (and me, about three sections up). Opposing big men are going to get their points, but they won't steamroll Duke's big four.
Reason #4: Andre Dawkins will hit two huge threes — and maybe throw a down a stadium shaker — when we need them.
All season, I've been battling with Mr. T about who's the more important “under-the-radar” player for the Blue Devils: Zoubek (my choice) or Andre Dawkins (his). Mr. T has since relented a bit, but as Dawkins has picked up his work ethic and turned his season around following a slump (brought on by the death of his sister), I've come to understand how essential Dawkins is to this team's success. For one thing, he can help spell the S's, and provide some quality minutes. But most importantly, Dawkins is good for two huge three-pointers and a monster dunk in the second half of any game that will either stop a run by the opposition or break a game wide open. My hope is that he gets plenty of PT in the first-round game so that he can gain some valuable NCAA tourney experience (don't forget, he should be a senior in high school right now), hit some big threes, and gain some confidence from Coach K so that he's readily available in tight situations later in the tournament.
Reason #5: Coach K has no bad options… and something to prove.
I've thought for a couple years now that Coach K brought as much back from his coaching experience in Beijing as he brought to Team USA's gold medal-winning campaign. Although he was distracted leading up to Summer 2008, he came back from China seemingly re-focused on bringing Duke back to its Final Four glory. He gained valuable insight from Team USA's NBA superstars and fellow coaches like Jim Boeheim, and got his first taste of a championship in seven years (not counting ACC titles). So what happened last year? The team was only about seven-and-a-half players deep, and he couldn't rely on anyone beyond the big four (Gerald Henderson, Singler, Scheyer, and, to an extent, Smith). Greg Paulus gave everyone nightmares (don't get me started on Syracuse's star quarterback), and Zoubek, Thomas, and Miles Plumlee weren't half the players they are this year. This season, when you hear that Coach K is making a substitution, you don't get worried. The Plumlees are coming in for Zoubek and Thomas? Great, I like that tandem down low. Dawkins is in for Smith? Don't be afraid to toss up some threes, Andre — you're due to hit a couple big ones. You hardly notice Ryan Kelly when he's in the game, but that's OK — he's giving some other guys a breather and at least he's not turning the ball over and making you wish he was still in his warm ups. (Updated: Took out the mention of Olek Cyzk.) Fail-safe substitutions is key for Coach K because for a while there in the 2000s, some of his late-game maneuvering could drive a fan crazy. No, don't f*cking put in Paulus!! This tournament, there are no bad options, and Coach K can focus on his play drawing and calling — and yelling at the refs. So what scares me?
- A really good full-court press. We've handled it relatively well this season, but an intense swarm of defenders could cause us lots of trouble in a tight game.
- Rick Pitino. Those suits and that slicked-back hair scare me more than Villanova, Baylor, and Purdue combined. I just think if he can get his team past Cal, Pitino will be gunning for Coach K. Just not sure the talent matches the high-class suit.
- Georgetown and Maryland. Thanks to the ever-accommodating Selection Committee, Kansas and OSU will have to deal with those two.
- Unfriendly rims, i.e. everyone going ice cold. This, of course, would make Reasons #2 through #5 above all moot, and this is why most of you will bet against Duke. You just don't think the three S's will shoot lights out when they need to. Understood. But as a Duke fan (see Reason #1), I can only expect that doesn't happen. So with all that said… Duke over Kansas, 74-70. You think I'm crazy? Then do this:
- Join the BroBible.com Pick'Em Tournament Challenge and beat me in the brackets.
- Leave insightful comments below that amount to more than just “Dook sucks.”
- Explain to the Brommunity why you think your team will win the National Championship.