by Robert Ferringo - 03/06/2006
I hate Duke. I always have and I always will.
Normally, an admission like that would destroy my credibility. You can't trust someone's opinion when they're discussing something they loathe. It's like asking Karl Rove to talk about financial aid for students or health benefits for the poor and elderly.
However, you can believe me when I tell you that I've been completely objective during my critique of Duke this season. The reason is simple: one of the few things that I hate worse than the Blue Devils is losing money.
But the good news is that Duke has no hope of winning the national title this year. Knowing this, I can avoid losing money and still despise them with every fiber of my being.
Now I know what you're thinking - this is all a knee-jerk reaction to their two-game losing streak. I'm piling on, like the rest of the bobble heads in the national media. Well, you're wrong. I actually proposed this story - Why Duke Won't Win It All - to my editor two weeks ago. In fact, if it wasn't for a week-long cruise around the Caribbean, this story would have been posted before the Florida State and North Carolina debacles and I would be getting love letters from my gambling brethren for my sagely advice.
Now, just because I abhor the Blue Devils, they still make a great case for why they could win the national title. They've destroyed Texas and already beaten Memphis once this year. They were head-and-shoulders better than any other team in the ACC this year. They're set up for a No. 1 seed - and their usual cakewalk path to the Final Four - in the Big Dance, where the title has gone to a top seed win 16 of the last 21 years. They have what should be the co-National Player of the Year (J.J. Redick), and another All-American in Sheldon Williams. Coach K is incredible, and the roster is littered with McDonald's All-Americans.
Other than that, they don't stand a chance.
All kidding aside, they do make a compelling argument as to why they will be one of the favorites when the brackets are announced next Sunday. However, I still contest that they have no chance of being the Last Man Standing in St. Louis. Here are six practical, non-biased, well-researched reasons why:
Reason No. 1: No third scoring option.
When Duke won the national championship in 2001, Carlos Boozer was their third-leading scorer with 13.3 points per game and Mike Dunleavy was fourth at 12.6. In 1999, when they were national runners-up, William Avery was No. 3 at 14.9 ppg, and Corey Maggette was No. 4 at 10.6. Those were future NBA first-rounders playing a supporting role on stacked squads.
This season Sean Dockery and Josh McRoberts are tied for third at 8.2 ppg. You see where I'm going with this? No one other than Redick can create their own shot, and no one other than Redick or Williams is capable of carrying the team through scoring droughts. Also, point guard Greg Paulus isn't exactly Jason Kidd when it comes to running an offense and getting people involved.
Which reminds me...
Reason #2: Inexperienced point guard.
March is all about guard play. Paulus, a freshman, has been solid this season for the Blue Devils while leading the ACC in assists. But that's just it: he's only "solid". He doesn't control the flow of the game. He doesn't create shots for his teammates. He can't beat anyone off the dribble, and is a defensive liability.
But most of all, he has never proven that he can step up and hit a big shot. He averages less than two three-point attempts per game, and makes only 36 percent of them. Duke is going to eventually run into a team with a skilled, experienced point guard. When they do Paulus is going to be completely overmatched.
One of the reasons I think Paulus will be overwhelmed is that he is...
Reason #3: Not athletic enough.
Look at the teams that beat Duke this season - Georgetown, Florida State and North Carolina. All of them were longer and more athletic than the Blue Devils. Now imagine Duke running up against Connecticut, Memphis or Villanova. I don't think so.
This isn't the same Duke team that was beating Texas by 31 points or Seton Hall by 53 back in the fall. Six of their last eight regular-season wins were by less than eight points, and by an average of just five points. People have caught up to the Blue Devils, and sometimes games just come down to who can run faster and jump higher.
One guy in particular that has a lot of trouble with taller, longer players is...
Reason #4: J.J. Redick
That's right. Dickie V's man-crush is going to cost his team a chance at a title.
Redick is an incredible shooter and a complete scorer. However, He's still only 6-foot-3, 190 pounds and has a distinct tendency to wear down in March. Over the last three years he has made only 31 percent (27-for-87) of this threes during the Big Dance. During the game in which Duke was eliminated in each of the last three seasons, Redick went 1-for-11, 3-for-9 and 3-for-9. That's a total of 7-for-29 (24 percent).
Over his last four games, he is shooting 29 percent from the field and 22 percent from three-point land. The kid averages more than 37 minutes per game, and receives so much attention from opposing teams - and opposing fans - that I just don't think that he can hold up for a six-game run.
Redick isn't the only superstar that will directly influence Duke's demise. There's also...
Reason #5: Shelden Williams and his foul trouble.
I feel bad calling out someone with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, but Williams is a huge question mark in big games because he's so foul prone. In six of the Blue Devils' last 13 games he's committed four or more fouls. Duke is 3-3 in those contests, including wins by one and four points.
If they run into a team with size and athleticism in the frontcourt they could have problems, and they simply are not the same team without Williams in the lineup.
Which brings us to the fact that Duke has...
Reason #6: No depth.
When Duke won the national championship in 2001, they had Chris Duhon - a solid NBA player - coming off the bench. In 1999 they could bring Maggette or Shane Battier off the pine. This year they have Lee Melchionni.
Duke has seven players averaging more than 20 minutes per game, but then there is a steep drop off to 6.8 mpg. They don't have an energy guy or another reliable scorer that they can bring off the bench, and it kills them. I think that the Blue Devils and their seven-man rotation have worn down from the intensity of 30 very emotional games. How much do they have left in the tank? Not enough.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at email@example.com or check out his Insider Page here.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's college basketball picks service.