Duke Blue Devils: The Road to Anaheim

Mar 16, 2016; Providence , RI, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Grayson Allen (3) speaks to the media during a practice day before the first round of the NCAA men
Mar 16, 2016; Providence , RI, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Grayson Allen (3) speaks to the media during a practice day before the first round of the NCAA men /

The Duke Blue Devils may have flaws, but that has not stopped Blue Devils teams of old from advancing in the NCAA Tournament. What would it look like?

The Duke Blue Devils received a four seed in the NCAA Tournament for their yeoman’s work of getting through the ACC with only a seven man roster. The team has been without Amile Jefferson for most of the season and he won’t be back until next year.

Despite this handicap, Duke pulled off some big wins this year. They beat Tournament number 1s Virginia and North Carolina this year and got the most out of freshman Brandon Ingram, sophomore Grayson Allen, and senior Marshall Plumlee to do it. Ingram provided matchup problems throughout the year, while Allen showed a balanced game more in line with the Chris Duhons or Nolan Smiths of the world rather than being pigeon holed as another J.J. Redick.

Of course Smith and Duhon would have loved to have Allen’s jumper because he does have that big shot in him. So does Luke Kennard, who comes off the bench to add extra firepower to the fray.

So the question becomes: how far can this Duke Blue Devils team go? The ACC Tournament seemed to answer that question with ‘the final minutes against Notre Dame.’ That was where Duke lost three players to fouls (Plumlee and Allen included) and the Irish came back for a victory in overtime.

Of course Notre Dame is not in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament and Duke may not face a team like Notre Dame until game 2 at the earliest. With that being said, good coaches approach the NCAA Tournament as one four team tournament at a time. So let’s focus on what Duke has to do to reach Anaheim (site of the West Region Regionals).

First test is UNC Wilmington the thirteen seed. Wilmington plays a small ball lineup that helps Duke. Duke also plays small ball, but their small ball four is ACC Freshman of the Year Brandon Ingram. He will be four inches taller than his most likely defender. That should allow to Duke to send it to Ingram and let him shoot over or work by his undersized defender.

Once Ingram becomes the focus of the defense, there is not much a team can do to stop Allen and Kennard on the perimeter. Ingram must and should get the ball in this game.

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Beyond Wilmington (if Duke wins) are Yale and Baylor. Duke would much rather see Yale. Yale is about eight deep, but do not have three point threats to keep up with Duke. Justin Sears and Brandon Sherrod offer scoring threats near the post, but neither is taller than 6’8”. Plumlee would just have to play smart down there.

Baylor is a pick that some have going to the Final Four. The Big 12 was tough this year and Baylor has to be glad to see a different conference’s jersey. Baylor played nine men against Kansas in the Big 12 Title game so they have a deeper bench than Duke does. Johnathan Motley offers inside scoring options while Taurean Prince can add a college three point shot to his arsenal.

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Motley and Prince therefore do not really pull Duke out of anything it already does. Rico Gathers, on the other hand, brings some bulk off the bench which could make a difference on the glass. Unlike Wilmington or Yale, Duke is not likely to win the rebounding battle against Baylor.

In the back court, Baylor’s point guard Lester Medford is only 5’10. His quickness will likely test his cover, with a few handsy fouls coming from slow reactions. On the other hand, Ismail Wainwright is a load on the wing. Unlike Medford or Charlotte, NC native Al Freeman, he is not a three point shooter and will test a smaller cover. His matchup against Matt Jones will be one to watch if it happens.

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So that is Duke’s road to Anaheim. They have to let Ingram beat Wilmington and then follow that up by outlasting Baylor’s superior depth and number of weapons much like they did against the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. It may be a lot of Allen and Ingram just imposing themselves on the game as superior players and hoping Baylor can’t figure out the defense.