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Duke drops in on Chase Jeter

1Coach K, along with two assistants, visited key 2015 recruit Chase Jeter on Thursday in Las Vegas. was a [private] short visit with the 6’10” Bishop Gorman HS forward, too short to even watch him work out, but nevertheless was a bonding opportunity between Chase and the staff.  The Duke coaches know that they are close with Jeter, so this was far from a pressurized environment, despite the hopes of a commitment post-Luke Kennard committing earlier in the week per sources.  While Arizona in particular is still in the running, along with UCLA and Oregon, Duke has only solidified its leadership position with Jeter over the last month or so.  Jeter is still sticking to his previously-stated plan (see our previous interview) to commit in late April or early May, and with how comfortable he and his family are feeling with Duke, its staff, and the other players — and the bonding Chase did with Luke Kennard over the UNC weekend — it would be a big surprise at this point if Jeter does not become a Blue Devil.[/private]

Andre Dawkins to compete in 3-Point Shooting Contest

DURHAM, N.C. – Duke guard Andre Dawkins will participate in the State Farm College Slam Dunk & 3-Point Championships at 9 p.m. ET April 3 at Moody Coliseum on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Intersport announced today. The 26th annual event, which will air live on ESPN, features 24 of college basketball’s top dunkers and long-range shooters.

Individual elements of the contest include: Quicken Loans Men’s 3-Point Championship, Buick Women’s 3-Point Championship, Echo Battle of the Champions and Denny’s Slam Dunk Championship.

Dawkins will compete in the Quicken Loans Men’s 3-Point Championship after helping Duke to a 26-9 record this season. The Chesapeake, Va., native averaged 7.9 points per game, while shooting 42.1 percent (64-for-152) from three-point range. He finished his career ranked eighth on the Blue Devils’ all-time list with 231 triples and became the 63rd player at Duke to top 1,000 career points. Dawkins wrapped up his career ranked fifth in school history with a .410 (231-for-563) three-point field goal percentage.

One player already named to the Denny’s Slam Dunk Championship roster is Eastern Kentucky University forward Marcus Lewis, who won the State Farm Dark Horse Dunker competition. A five-week, bracket-style, elimination competition, 16 under-the-radar dunkers competed in this social media contest. Fans determined the winner by voting during each round at www.facebook.com/CollegeSlam.

Outstanding State Farm College Slam Dunk & 3-Point Championships alumni include: Gary Payton (Oregon State), Steve Nash (Santa Clara), Bobby Hurley (Duke), Allan Houston (Tennessee), Michael Finley (Wisconsin), Wesley Matthews (Marquette), Kyle Korver (Creighton), Damon Stoudamire (Arizona) and Jason Terry (Arizona).

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Duke Basketball – Not the End of the World as we know it

jjjjjWe’ve been conspicuously absent since Duke lost and the main reason was to let the dust clear. Duke Basketball has created a monster of a fan base these days and quite frankly, it’s hard to navigate the waters in the various social media forums without being berated with rants from spoiled fans or short sided criticism of the team and Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The bottom line is that by Duke standards, the Mercer loss was a disappointing end to the season, one where the team never quite came together. In fact, this past seasons team never seemed mentally tough enough to advance but they were all good stewards for Duke just the same.

Were there specific reasons for this team to fall short of expectations? Sure there was, but there are no simple answers and certainly not any one thing to point to in trying to explain a first round exit.

I suppose one can call me old these days and I am sure many think I am cranky. But age does add wisdom and what I see is a blip on the radar with concern to Duke’s performance.

Duke had a staggered roster that needed Jabari Parker to play more in the paint, but that is not his natural position. They tried to off set their short comings in the paint with their perimeter play, but that didn’t work as well as expected. In fact, Duke was very inconsistent with their backcourt play where every player on the roster contributed to the plight. The guards struggled mightily to prevent penetration. Oddly, they saved their best collective performance for last, but then the front court issues reared its head in the Mercer loss and or the lack of post scoring.

And one cannot under sell the fact that Coach Mike Krzyzewski suddenly had to deal with the loss of his beloved brother. And the timing of that happening in season and at Christmas simply cannot be overstated. You see! Coach K is as human as you and me, but he’s just accomplished more than most reading this ever will in their profession, making him seem super human at times.

It never fails. Any time Duke loses, the lunatic fringe or narrow thinking bunch comes out firing that he’s losing his touch. They point to the same old tired analogies that have gained steam over the years like an old wives tale gains more to the story as time passes and becomes a bastion of misquotes.

Please. Coach K is still the winningest coach in the history of the college game. He’s still got the touch and he’s still got the desire. Krzyzewski hit the recruiting trail running attending Luke Kennard’s announcement that he will attend Duke. And that wasn’t his only stop on the recruiting trail.  In short, it took the staff little time to start to rebuild and secure future players.

As Duke fans, most of you are very lucky to have chosen to root for a team with a living legend at the helm. And fortunately, there are still rational fans or those who appreciate the body of Krzyzewski’s  work and have the foresight not to judge him on a season or even two.

The truth of the matter is that most fans adopted Duke for they were consistent winners. The vast majority of Duke Basketball fans do not pull for the football program and that in a sense makes them bandwagon fans. Bandwagon fans are hard to please for they think it’s their birthright to win every game, every season and when this doesn’t happen, they ask what’s wrong.

Nothing is wrong folks, save a dose of reality. It’s not easy to win year in and year out. It’s not easy to win national titles or even ACC Championships, yet the Duke program has done so and if the “Balance God’s,” are listening, they gave the Blue Devils several breaks along the way for more success than pretty much every other fan base enjoys.

Yes. Most of you have become quite spoiled as fans.

Anyhow, let me get back on track here by saying there is always a lot going on behind the scenes and the margin for error in going out early in the NCAA’s is a small one in this day and time.  I mean, it’s not like any one program is dominating the scene at this time and you don’t have to look far to see other behemoths like Kansas and North Carolina are also at home seeking distractions until the season ends.

Duke Basketball is way too big to let one season bring them down. And it’s not like they didn’t get some big wins, but they simply fell short of goals and it happens.

Anyhow, some of you can go back to harping on one and done types, live in the 90’s and such. The truth of the matter is that it is simply a time for adjustment. That adjustment could be a few simple tweaks but there is no reason the believe they will not be made. Duke Basketball is alive and well, just a little wounded at the moment.

Tomorrow, Krzyzewski will address the media and you can bet that we’ll learn a lot more at that time. He’s always shared more after the season than in season and we can expect him to address many issues.

That said, stay tuned, for we’ll be here to bring you what he says.  Until then, some could take a step back and a look at the big picture and the success you’ve enjoyed from a team always being competitive at the highest level.  Some times, it’s simply your turn to lose.  It happens.  It’s real.  But it’s not the norm for Duke Basketball nor will there likely be another first round exit a season from now.

It’s not the End of the World for Duke Basketball

We’ve been conspicuously absent since Duke lost and the main reason was to let the dust clear. Duke Basketball has created a monster of a fan base these days and quite frankly, it’s hard to navigate the waters in the various social media forums without being berated with rants from spoiled fans or short sided criticism of the team and Coach Mike Krzyzewski. The bottom line is that by Duke standards, the Mercer loss was a disappointing end to the season, one where the team never quite came together. In fact, this past seasons team was never seemingly mentally tough enough to advance. Were there specific reasons of this team falling short of expectations? Sure there was, but there are no simple answers and certainly not any one thing to point to in trying to explain a first round exit. I suppose one can call me old these days and I am sure many think I am cranky. But age does add wisdom and what I see is a blip on the radar with concern to Duke’s performance. Duke had a staggered roster that needed Jabari Parker to play more in the paint, but that is not his natural position. They tried to off set their short comings in the paint with their perimeter play, but that didn’t work as well as expected. In fact, Duke was very inconsistent with their backcourt play where every player on the roster contributed to the plight. The guards struggled mightily to prevent penetration. Oddly, they saved their best collective performance for last, but then the front court issues reared its head in the Mercer loss. And one cannot under sell the fact that Coach Mike Krzyzewski suddenly had to deal with the loss of his beloved brother. And the timing of that happening in season and at Christmas simply cannot be overstated. You see! Coach K is as human as you and me, but he’s just accomplished more than most reading this ever will in their profession, making him seem like he’s super human at times. It never fails. Any time Duke loses, the lunatic fringe or narrow thinking bunch comes out firing that he’s losing his touch. They point to the same old tired analogies that have gained steam over the years like an old wives tale gains steam and becomes a bastion of misquotes. Please. Coach K is still the winningest coach in the history of the college game. He’s still got the touch and he’s still got the desire. Krzyzewski hit the recruiting trail running attending Luke Kennard’s announcement that he will attend Duke. And that wasn’t his only stop on the recruiting trail.  Kennard is a baller and a hard nosed competitor and Krzyzewski and his staff got a great start in his class where he’ll be a senior this coming season. As Duke fans, most of you are very lucky to have chosen to root for a team with a living legend at the helm. And fortunately, there are still rational fans, one who appreciates the body of his work and have the foresight not to judge him on a season or even two. The truth of the matter is that most fans adopted Duke for they were consistent winners. The vast majority of Duke Basketball fans do not pull for the football program and that in a sense makes them bandwagon fans.  And trust me.  When the day comes when Krzyzewski does retire, many will fall off the ship in droves.  Most of you weren’t around when Krzyzewski put in the hard work to revitalize the program when it was in the doldrums.  What I am saying is that he has built Duke into the winner they are today with blood, sweat and surely some occasional tears. And Bandwagon fans are hard to please for they think it’s their birthright to win every game, every season and when this doesn’t happen, they ask what’s wrong, each suddenly having all the answers and taking on the role of “Coach Couch.” Nothing is wrong folks, save a dose of reality. It’s not easy to win year in and year out. It’s not easy to win national titles or even ACC Championships, yet the Duke program has done so and if the “Balance God’s,” are listening, they gave the Blue Devils several breaks along the way for more success than pretty much every other fan base out there. Yes. Most of you have become quite spoiled as fans. Anyhow, let me get back on track here by saying there is always a lot going on behind the scenes and the margin for error in going out early in the NCAA’s is a small one in this day and time. I mean, it’s not like any one program is dominating the scene at this time and you don’t have to look far to see other behemoths like Kansas and North Carolina are also at home seeking distractions until the season ends. Duke Basketball is way too big to let one season bring them down. And it’s not like they didn’t get some big wins, but they simply fell short of goals and it happens. Anyhow, some of you can go back to harping on one and done types, live in the 90’s and such. The truth of the matter is that it is simply a time for adjustment. That adjustment could be a few simple tweaks but there is no reason the believe they will not be made. Duke Basketball is alive and well, just a little wounded at the moment. Tomorrow, Krzyzewski will address the media and you can bet that we’ll learn a lot more at that time. He’s always shared more after than season than in season and we can expect him to address many issues. That said, stay tuned, for we’ll be here to bring you what he says.  Until then, might I suggest some take a step back to realize how lucky you are to be a Duke fan.  When you are truly on board with your team, you accept their struggles and their joys.  Fortunately for the Duke fan base, we know which of those occurs most often.  The balance of things in the college basketball world have clearly been in the corner of Duke for decades, putting the program in the fortunate rare air all want to breath.

The Path to the Final Four

It’s time to gear up for the Greatest Show on Earth. There’s a lot to process: historical trends and computer rankings and figuring out what Seth Greenberg said. Bracket Which Cinderellas will pull off the upsets. What top seed will fall flat on its face?

Most importantly, what does it take to reach the Final Four?

That last one might be particularly pressing for Duke fans —
how come Duke made the Final Four seven times in nine years from 1986 to 1994 but only once in nine years from 2005 to 2013. Did those early teams have some special something Duke’s more recent teams lacked?

We’ll get Duke-specific later. For now, an evaluation of the past 29 NCAA tournaments (since 1985, the year the tourney went to 64 teams) suggests the most important “something” is probably a factor most people haven’t spent all that much time thinking about. Perhaps because the teams themselves have no control over it; possibly because it isn’t knowable in advance. So what is this magic factor that has so much control over which teams makes the Final Four and which don’t?

Who the teams play.

Not who they’re supposed to play, but the actual path facing a team on its journey to the promised land. For example, last season the expected path for 2nd seeded Duke was to play the following seeds in the following order: 15-7-3-1. And that’s exactly the seeds Duke played. Similarly, 1-seeds face an expected path of 16-8-4-1. And assuming for the moment that 8-seeds and 9-seeds are equivalent for our current purposes, that’s the exact path three of last season’s four 1-seeds took (though they each ended the trip at a different point). The only 1-seed that took a different path? That would be Louisville, which played 12-seed Oregon instead of 4-seed St. Louis in the Sweet 16. Louisville also happened to be the only 1-seed to make the Final Four. Coincidence?

Maybe. But the fact is that top-four seeds (teams seeded 1, 2, 3, or 4) have run “chalk” (their expected path) a total of 212 times since 1985 and have made the Final Four only 17 of those times (8.0%). When those same teams have played at least one game against earlier upset winners (“non-chalk”), they’ve made the Final Four 82 out of 252 chances (32.5%). Four times more likely would be a pretty big coincidence.

Let’s break it down further. Here’s how the different seeds have fared since 1985 (with 5-seeds thrown in for good measure):

Seed Chalk Played Chalk Final Fours Chalk % Success Non-Chalk Played Non-Chalk Final Fours Non-Chalk % Success
1 (vs. 8-seeds only) 28 8 28.6% 88 39 44.3%
1 (8/9 seeds equivalent) 48 12 25.0% 68 35 51.5%
2 43 4 9.3% 73 21 28.8%
3 65 3 4.6% 51 11 21.6%
4 76 2 2.6% 40 11 27.5%
5 97 0 0.0% 19 6 31.6%

In fairness, the above figures include first-round upsets, because technically, when a 14-seed beats a 3, the 3-seed played chalk. So, here’s what the table looks like for teams that managed to beat their first round opponent:

Seed Chalk Played Chalk Final Fours Chalk % Success Non-Chalk Played Non-Chalk Final Fours Non-Chalk % Success
1 (vs. 8-seeds only) 28 8 28.6% 88 39 44.3%
1 (8/9 seeds equivalent) 48 12 25.0% 68 35 51.5%
2 36 4 11.1% 73 21 28.8%
3 48 3 6.3% 51 11 21.6%
4 51 2 3.9% 40 11 27.5%
5 56 0 0.0% 19 6 31.6%

Slightly different percentages, but the song remains the same. Even without counting first round upsets, top seeds are twice as likely to make the Final Four if one of their expected opponents falls prey to an upset. 2-seeds are almost three times more likely, 3-seeds almost five times more likely, and 4-seeds more than six times more likely. And no 5-seed has ever made the Final Four through a chalk path.

We tend to think of upsets as huge surprises. We know they do happen, of course, but in the NCAA tournament we pretty much always expect the favorite to win, or if it doesn’t we think the favorite was flawed, not as good as advertised. Except that’s not the way things work, either statistically or in real life.

If a team is favored to beat another team nine times out of ten, while the favorite could certainly win ten games in a row, the expectation would be that team would lose one game in a ten game series. That one could be the first game in the series, the last game, or any game in between. Or it may not happen at all. Put another way, if Team A had a 90% chance to beat team B, and the teams played ten games, the probability that Team A would win all ten games would be: (0.9)*(0.9)*(0.9)*(0.9)*(0.9)*(0.9)*(0.9)*(0.9)*(0.9)*(0.9), which equals 34.9%. The odds would be nearly 2 to 1 against Team A winning all ten.

In a one-and-done situation, who knows if and when the “one” will come up?

A more pertinent example would be to apply this idea to the NCAA tournament. Using Ken Pomeroy’s rating system to determine the probabilities, last season Duke had the following chance to make the Elite Eight:

0.9358 (chance of beating Albany) * 0.6427 (chance of beating Creighton) * 0.5562 (chance of beating Michigan State).

Multiplying it out, Duke’s probability of winning those three games came to 33.45%. Again, a 2 to 1 chance against (although fortunately Duke beat the odds).

On the other side of the 2013 Midwest bracket, Louisville had a 63.5% chance to reach the Elite Eight, thanks in large part to a weaker set of expected opponents. Then Louisville got another boost when 12-seed Oregon beat the region’s 4-seed and 5-seed to face Louisville in the Sweet 16, upping Louisville’s Elite Eight chances to 70.1%. Better than 2 to 1 in favor. If you’d switched Duke and Louisville, Duke’s chances against Louisville’s opponents would have been 51.6%, while Louisville’s chances against Duke’s opponents would have been 54.3%. Essentially two coin flips. The actual path matters.

Employing the same method using the last five years of pre-Tournament Pomeroy data, averaging for each seed, here are the expected probabilities of each top-8 seed winning its first game:

1-seed: 96.2% (actual performance over 29 years: 100%)
2-seed: 92.1% (actual over 29 years: 94.0%)
3-seed: 81.7% (actual over 29 years: 85.3%)
4-seed: 79.5% (actual over 29 years: 78.5%)
5-seed: 64.6% (actual over 29 years: 64.7%)
6-seed: 58.2% (actual over 29 years: 66.4%)
7-seed: 54.7% (actual over 29 years: 60.3%)
8-seed: 56.1% (actual over 29 years: 48.3%)

So when people joke about how 12-seeds always beat 5-seeds, the answer is they beat them almost exactly the amount you’d expect based on the probabilities. If anything (other than 9s beating 8s), we get slightly fewer upsets than we should.

Expanding to all games in a seed’s expected path (using the same five years of Pomeroy pre-Tournament data), the chance of each top-4 seed to advance in the tournament is as follows:

1-seed: 73.4% chance of making Sweet 16; 48.9% chance of making Elite Eight; 30.5% chance of making Final Four;
2-seed: 63.4% chance of making Sweet 16; 36.5% chance of making Elite Eight; 15.4% chance of making Final Four;
3-seed: 49.6% chance of making Sweet 16; 22.7% chance of making Elite Eight; 8.2% chance of making Final Four;
4-seed: 47.1% chance of making Sweet 16; 16.6% chance of making Elite Eight; 8.0% chance of making Final Four;

Even for the best teams, the odds are against them. The team in the last five years with the highest probability against its expected path to reach the Final Four was 2010 Duke, with a 47.1% chance, but even that team was more likely than not to miss out on the Final Four. Which is why the early round upsets are so important, because like Louisville last year, playing a 12 instead of a 4 can really boost your odds.

But does it really work like that in real life? Let’s take a closer look:

AFTER FIRST ROUND

Seed After Facing # games # Final Fours Pct.
1 8 56 22 39.2%
1 9 60 25 41.7%
2 7 67 17 25.3%
2 10 42 8 19.0%
3 6 63 8 12.7%
3 11 36 6 16.7%
4 5 61 7 11.5%
4 12 30 6 20.0%

AFTER SECOND ROUND

Seed After Facing # games # Final Fours Pct.
1 4 43 17 39.5%
1 5 35 15 42.9%
1 >5 23 15 65.2%
2 3 36 10 27.8%
2 6 28 9 32.1%
2 >6 11 6 54.5%
3 2 37 8 21.6%
3 >2 23 6 26.1%
4 1 43 10 23.3%
4 >1 8 3 37.5%

AFTER THIRD ROUND

Seed After Facing # games # Final Fours Pct.
1 2 39 19 48.7%
1 3 20 12 60.0%
1 >3 21 16 76.2%
2 1 39 20 51.3%
2 >1 15 5 33.3%
3 1 20 8 40.0%
3 >1 10 6 60.0%
4 2 or 3 11 7 63.6%
4 >3 7 6 85.7%

In almost every case, having your expected path derailed by an upset winner increases your chances to reach the Final Four. And not surprisingly, the bigger the upset, the more your odds go up. Not really rocket science, is it?

So that’s all well and good, but what about Duke? Can we really explain 7 Final Fours in 9 years vs. 1 Final Four in 9 years based on paths and “chalk”?

Maybe we can.

From 1985 to 1994, Duke played “chalk” only twice. The 1992 team was dominant enough to get through the chalk path to the Final Four (although it took a Christian Laettner miracle to do it) but the 1993 team missed the Final Four. That means the team played 8 “non-chalk” paths in the time period. Not counting the 1987 team that wasn’t a top-four seed, the team made the Final Four through 6 of those 7 easier paths. From 1995 to 2004, Duke failed to make the tourney once and once wasn’t a top-four seed, but all 8 of the other years were non-chalk paths, leading to 3 Final Fours. Playing chalk only twice in 17 opportunities was remarkably lucky.

That luck seemed to run out in the 2005 to 2013 period. Not counting the 2007 team that wasn’t a top-four seed, the team played 5 chalk paths out of 8, and failed to reach the Final Four through any of them. Of the 3 non-chalk paths in the period, Duke made one Final Four. And two of the non-chalk teams were only non-chalk because Duke played a 5-seed instead of a 4-seed.

Overall, Duke has played 7 chalk paths and reached the Final Four once out of 7 (14.3%) and played 18 non-chalk paths and made the Final Four in 10 of those (55.6%). How does that compare to other schools?

Counting teams that have either been a top-four seed five or more times or have made a Final Four from a top-four seed, such teams have performed as follows:

Chalk paths*: 176; 21 reached Final Four (11.9%)
Non-chalk paths: 198; 77 reached Final Four (38.9%)

* – For the purposes of this subsection, we’re counting 8-seeds and 9-seeds as equivalent.

Duke slightly outperformed such teams along chalk paths and significantly outperformed them along non-chalk paths. It’s also worth noting that of the 21 teams that have gotten through chalk paths to the Final Four, six of those teams won the national championship (including Duke’s 1992 team), and a seventh team, 1985 Georgetown was totally dominant until it ran into Villanova and perhaps the biggest upset in the history of the NCAA tournament. Maybe some teams are so much better than everyone else that the chalk doesn’t bother them? Who knows?

The above grid counted your average Joe. How’s it look if we only take the “elite”? Well, counting teams that have had a 4-seed or better in 10 or more tournaments, the performance grid looks like this:

Chalk paths: 116; 15 reached Final Four (12.9%)
Non-chalk paths: 132; 57 reached Final Four (43.2%)

Not very different, relative to Duke. Here’s a detailed grid of the 17 “elite” teams that comprise the latter grid:

Team Chalk Played Chalk Final Fours Chalk % Success Non-Chalk Played Non-Chalk Final Fours Non-Chalk % Success
Duke 7 1 14.3% 18 10 55.6%
Arizona 8 1 12.5% 8 3 37.5%
Connecticut 2 0 0.0% 11 4 36.4%
Georgetown 6 1 16.7% 5 1 20.0%
Illinois 9 1 11.1% 2 1 50.0%
Indiana 8 1 12.5% 2 1 50.0%
Kansas 14 2 14.3% 10 5 50.0%
Kentucky 5 3 60.0% 13 3 23.1%
Louisville 5 0 0.0% 7 4 57.1%
Michigan 5 0 0.0% 5 3 60.0%
Michigan State** 10 1 10.0% 5 5 100.0%
North Carolina 10 3 30.0% 11 5 45.4%
Ohio State 5 0 0.0% 7 3 42.9%
Oklahoma 6 0 0.0% 8 2 25.0%
Pittsburgh 7 0 0.0% 3 0 0.0%
Syracuse 6 0 0.0% 10 4 40.0%
UCLA 3 1 33.3% 7 3 42.9%

** – Michigan State has made two Final Fours from a 5-seed, and has been seeded 5th half a dozen times over the years, so the Spartans’ totals in this grid include the team’s appearances as a 5-seed, while the other teams in the grid reflect 1- through 4-seeds only.

Only two of the teams perform significantly better than Duke against chalk. The fact that those teams are Kentucky and North Carolina may possibly cause some angst among Duke fans, but at that level it’s a pretty small sample.

What’s it all mean? Well, next time you’re tempted to evaluate a team’s entire season based on its NCAA tournament performance, remember that a great deal of that showing was dictated by circumstances entirely outside the team’s and coach’s control. Sure, basketball isn’t played in a calculator, and the teams still have to win (or lose) the games. But the fact remains it’s a lot easier to win when the odds are stacked in your favor, and a lot harder when they aren’t.

The 411 on Duke and their chances in the NCAA Tournament

As we head into the NCAA Tournament, it’s time to take a good look where the Blue Devils stand with concern to possible success in the Big Dance. The 2013-14 team fell short of pre season expectations where media members picked them to win the ACC and they were tripped up from rectifying that by a spirited Virginia team in the conference tournament. Now, we are mere hours before Duke takes to the court hoping to have found some answers on how they can become a champion.

Going into the season I told many that this team would lose some games in the regular season and in the ACC. Don’t get me wrong in that I picked them to win the conference as fellow media members did but I in no way took a look at that time to every teams schedule when doing so.  Still, this team is close to where I thought they would be, falling just a little short of my expectations.

Many a pundit pointed to the fact that Duke would struggle in the paint in the pre season and they have at times but it’s the perimeter that nobody questioned. Duke has obviously been forced to play some players out of position by traditional standards. Parker is ideally suited as a power/wing forward but has had to take on a big role in the paint. Moving forward, it is key that the outstanding freshman realize how much damage he can do in the post for the truth is few can stop him there.  If Duke is to succeed it will be in part because the talented freshman helps to follow some of those many outside shots they take where he could find some lovely garbage buckets to pad his stats even more. During the season Duke also depended upon Amile Jefferson down low as well and he’s rebounded just fine there and played against bigger players. He continues to gain confidence and seek consistency with his play but some times struggles with where to be off ball.

Anyhow, what held Duke back a bit this season to me was their [private] backcourt. Going into the season this area was considered a strength, yet there has been collectively very inconsistent play from the group of Tyler Thornton, Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon and Andre Dawkins. Sulaimon has a very rocky start to the season and he’s come around of late but still has trouble finishing around the hoop after making moves. Thornton is at times a rock, but at others seems oddly rattled for a senior. Cook has been much better of late and that’s a good thing, but he seems to let the little things get to him instead of fighting through adversity. And then there is Andre Dawkins who is still haunted at times by his ball handling and not playing the floor instead of hovering around the three-point stripe.

I know that sounds a bit harsh for me, but this is not a public article and thus I can be a little more liberal with my take. And it’s not like every single one of these kids could not turn it on. In fact, it was Dawkins three-point bombs against Baylor in the NCAA Tournament that helped Duke be in position to win a national title in 2010. It was Thornton who mailed a three to give Duke and amazing early season win a year ago and Cook has the ability to be a better distributor and not just a shooter.

I was one of the first to point to Jabari Parker and compare his incredible talent to that of Carmelo Anthony and that he could lead Duke to a title on his own if he was as good as I thought he was. Well, he is good enough, but whether he is mature enough is the real question.

Despite that wonderful X-Factor Duke has going with Parker, to me, the tournament comes down to good guard play. Between Cook and Thornton, the two need to combine their efforts to find their teammates, namely Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker. Duke cannot afford to pass up an open Dawkins or Sulaimon on the perimeter as well, so if they’re open — snap the pass.

Many, especially on message boards have complained about Andre Dawkins lack of playing time. Well, gee folks. I think Coach K would play him if he truly thinks he can help for as I said earlier, the kid can change the complexion of the game quicker than anyone with his three ball. That said, there has to be concerns with his defense or another area of his play,  possibly even the mental side of things . Anyhow, Dre needs to focus in and play the whole court and the tray will come, IMO.

Another thing is that one can forget rotations as they’ve known them to a degree. I feel Marshall Plumlee could get more significant minutes and it is not out of the realm of possibility that an unsung player finds himself on a few big plays, like Matt Jones.  Plumlee can alter shots and when he is wide in the post, he is effective.  By wide, I mean being big with his stance. Find themselves. That’s what it is all about now for Duke as good as they’ve been could be better and I think the players an coaches realize this.

Coach K has never been one not to have a reserve of magic but this years group has not responded as well as he’d probably hoped they would but the season is still going. There is still time and anyone who has been paying close attention knew it would take this Duke team time to come together.

On the surface, Duke seems like an older team. They have senior captains in Thornton and Hairston and Andre off the bench. But only one of those players has played significant minutes all season long. Then they have a freshman leader and best player in Jabari Parker and a junior in Rodney Hood. The thing is that Hood and Parker have only played together for a year.

In that sense, I am a little optimistic for I think the team knows they have to “team” up quickly. Maybe, we’ll get a Carmelo like ride, but an even better thing would be simple consistency, hitting the open man with snap passes and playing defense like you’re defending your mom’s house.

If Duke is to make a run in this tournament, they will have been mentally tougher than they’ve been at any time this season and they will have to work better together as a team.  [/private]