I can hear it now the barrage of boos and hisses at the suggestion of Duke being a No. 1 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
When Dick Vitale announced his Final Four favorites prior to the Duke-Florida State game Thursday night, and Duke was among them, I myself groaned a bit at the suggestion. First I always consider it bad luck when an analyst picks the Blue Devils as a top seed and two I know the onslaught of anti-Duke people who will tear the suggestion apart.
I would have gladly suggested that a top seed for Duke wasn’t very likely considering how up and down their season has been. Sure they have a heck of a resume with a strength of schedule that is nearly second to none.
They’ve beaten Florida State on their home court, North Carolina on their home court, Virginia, Michigan, Kansas and Michigan State all ranked teams, some in the Top 10. And Kansas and Michigan State are both contenders for top seeds themselves. How many other teams can boast such a resume? The answer: not many.
But still Duke has posted some impressive resumes in the past only to fall flat as a top seed, just revist last year’s debacle against Arizona in the Sweet 16.
How is this team any different? They are still a team that is very flawed. Defensively they are as weak as they have been in recent memory. They play inconsistently and their big men despite improvements are perhaps the most inconsistent part of their entire team.
There are those that say you need great coaching and guard play to make a deep run in March. Well Duke has both of those, but there are those that feel you need a quality inside game to be a true contender. Arizona’s Derrick Williams almost single handedly picked the Blue Devils apart last year so there is some truth in it.
But in 2010 Duke had no inside game, from strictly a scoring stand point and still won the National Title. So it can be done if the bigs are consistently affective.
Against Florida State, Duke’s mental and physical toughness were put to the test. The mark of a championship calaber team is one that can bounce back and respond to adversity after bad games and in games themselves.
Now with the season quickly coming to and end the opportunities to bounce back after a bad game are becoming few, and teams have to demonstrate that fortitude to make adjustments in games and take a teams best punch and always have an answer.
Against the Seminioles, Duke did just that for perhaps the first time all season and certainly they did it affectively. Every time down the stretch that Florida State cut the lead, the Blue Devils made a play, hit a shot, or got an important rebound. They made plays in key moments and those plays ended up being the difference in the game.
With a hostile crowd in a road game against a Top 25 team, a lesser team, and even Duke early in the season, could have easily folded. But the Blue Devils fought back.
Austin Rivers has taken on a refuse to loose mentality. No matter if he takes a beating or misses some shots he is going to step up and make plays. He is known for his offense but has been playing very affective defense lately and made a decisive interception of an inbounds pass late in the Florida State game.
Senior big man Miles Plumlee has also stepped up. His numbers aren’t Earth shattering but he is becoming a glue guy whose athleticism is allowing him to make key plays. He is also playing with a toughness that the Blue Devils absolutely need.
Add in the play of Ryan Kelly, Seth Curry, Tyler Thornton and the deadly stroke of Andre Dawkins and there are components of a championship team there.
Does that mean they are a lock? No. But are they in the mix? Without a doubt they have to be.
So in just a few weeks when Selection Sunday determines the fate of 68 basketball teams and in particular the four favorites, I woudn’t be shocked to see Duke on the top line on one side of the bracket.
They have the resume, they have the ingredients, they have the coach and for perhaps the first time all season long, they are playing like a team that has the guts, the determination and togetherness that it takes to be worthy of a top spot.
A lot can still happen, but right now there is no doubt in my mind that if they were given a top seed today that they would have earned it and be very deserving of it. The results will take care of themselves.