I’ll admit for a Duke Basketball fan I haven’t necessarily been Duke’s biggest fan over the last month of the season.
It has been easy, at least for me, to criticize the Blue Devils’ play over that time frame because they have been terribly inconsistent and didn’t look particular prepared to be a serious contender heading down the stretch this season.
Mason Plumlee had been a shadow of his former self. Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon have had games where they were dominant and then there have been games where they didn’t even look like they made the trip. And then there has the 6-foot-11 elephant in the room with the bum foot, Ryan Kelly.
Prior to his injury Duke was a real national title contender, if not the favorite. When he first got hurt I underestimated what he meant to this particular team and a month into his absence it became abundantly clear that without Kelly the Blue Devils likely could suffer a similar fate as they did last season.
Even when Kelly came back I had my doubts about how far Duke could go because how much could he really improve a team after having been out a month?
Duke’s 69-53 walloping of rival North Carolina has me once again thinking that Duke could be a contender for a national title and be a step above most of the pack.
Not being one to go out on a limb with my predictions I don’t feel the same way about the Blue Devils being the top favorite. So far, I’ve not seen enough of what Duke did to North Carolina to feel that the team has returned to their dominant early season form but I certainly feel that Saturday night’s performance is a step in the right direction.
Even with Kelly having a mediocre game by his standards, his presence made all the difference in the world for Plumlee and Curry. Duke was a much better team on defense and while they didn’t completely dominate the boards, they were able to out rebound North Carolina with its smaller lineup, something they hadn’t necessarily done against other teams who went smaller.
It is still too soon to make some sweeping proclamation that Duke is going to march through the post-season and come out as ACC and National Champions. But you have to like where the Blue Devils are mentally.
They are starting to get some of that confidence and swagger back and with that you’d hope that the consistency will follow. Duke has a week to prepare for the ACC Tournament and that should give us an even better indication as to whether they are ready to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.