The college basketball season is closing in on its midpoint and conference play is underway, so naturally everyone wants to know who are the contenders for a national championship and who are the pretenders.
Duke fans are among those who firmly believe that based on the way the Blue Devils have started the season (14-0, three wins against Top 5 teams and several more over teams that are likely to be in the NCAA Tournament), that the current No. 1 team in the country could be the last team standing in April.
There are always a handful of teams, sometimes fewer, that are capable of making a title run each year, but oddly enough this year as impressive as Duke has been, there are still those who have their doubts. The Blue Devils who weren’t even predicted to be the best team in the ACC and who were ranked as low as 15 in some preseason rankings, have completely reshaped how they are perceived. They’ve done it by winning.
Big wins over Kentucky, Louisville and Ohio State propelled them further up the national rankings and a loss by Indiana, the only other team to hold the No.1 ranking this season sent the Blue Devils to the top of the polls. Does it mean all that much right now? Not really, but it is a sign of their accomplishments to date.
Even with all of that, there are those who don’t feel Duke is a clear cut favorite, and they might not be. It is fair to say others can win it, but they have to be in the mix. According to former Duke Basketball player and current ESPN College Basketball Analyst, Jay Williams, Duke is one of maybe 11 teams that could contend for the title.
With all due respect to Jay, he is wrong in that regard. There are not that many teams that could win the title this year or probably any year. He seems to be trying too hard not to be bias by saying Duke is a title contender, but he isn’t the only one. Jay Bilas has done it for years, and the two of them have both uttered the “there are no great teams in college basketball this season” phrase already this year.
Funny how every time Duke seems to be among the top teams in the country, the country never has great teams. You have to wonder if it was any other team that had an undefeated record with the schedule Duke has already faced, wouldn’t they be considered great team. Think back to 2010 the same thing was said then too.
What makes most people hesitant to say Duke is great, or at least a title contender is the fact that this team has flaws but to date, they haven’t been fully exploited to the point where they have a loss. Many didn’t expect Mason Plumlee to be the dominate post player he has become. Even fewer expected Quinn Cook to become a first class point guard.
There were questions about Duke’s ability to play defense after last season saw one of the worst defensive teams in Mike Krzyzewski’s tenure at Duke. This season however, Duke has improved that dramatically over last season and gotten back to in your face pressure defense that has been a staple of the Blue Devils’ program.
Duke has very good players in Ryan Kelly and Rasheed Sulaimon who have complemented its stars Seth Curry, and Plumlee. This is a team that right now has most of the pieces to be a national title contender even if there are those out there waiting for the ball to drop and for them to start showing their weakness.
This team has weaknesses and as Mike Krzyzewski has already said this Duke team is a team that can be beat but just hasn’t been beat yet. They probably will lose somewhere along the way but make no mistake, regardless of what you think about Duke, or regardless of how much you want to find something wrong with them, the Blue Devils are a team capable of bringing home a title.
And while Duke may not be one of the greatest teams in the history of college basketball, they have had a great season so far and are certainly looking for more success and you have to respect their chances of doing just that.