Final Four Preview: Duke

Sat, 04/03/2010 - 9:50am
These are not your older brother's Duke Blue Devils. They're also not your dad's Blue Devils.
Mike KrzyzewskiMike KrzyzewskiTwo decades ago, the Duke University men's basketball team was in the midst of a run of seven Final Four appearances – and two championships – in nine years. Five years, ago, that run was one Final Four appearance in eight seasons.
But while coach Mike Krzyzewksi once made his living on five-star recruits who would, quite literally, step on and over any opposition, the program's return to the Promise Land – not “promised,” as there's still work to be done – comes with a new tone.
In glory days past, Krzyzewksi fielded lineups of elite athletes with a commitment to defense. He stacked teams with role players along the lines of Brian Davis, Antonio Lang, Jeff Capel and Steve Wojciechowski.
At some point, the athleticism dropped. At some point, recruiting became a different world and Duke's relative lack of NBA-success-stories-per-McDonald's-All-American-signed seemed to dissuade top recruits. Eventually, the cupboard was a bit emptier and those role players were guys like Greg Paulus, David McClure and Lee Melchionni.
You can't always make them faster, so Krzyzewksi made them taller. Duke ranks as the second-tallest team in the country this year, with a 6-foot-5 point guard and a 7-foot center and a plethora of long, tall bodies in between.
In a way, it's the perfect storm for Duke. The 6-10 Plumlee brothers came in just as three-year disappointment Brian Zoubek, the center, was starting to figure out how not to look so goofy all the time. Add in senior Lance Thomas, the quietest essential piece on any of the four remaining teams, and Krzyzewksi was able to move 6-8 Kyle Singler to the small forward spot and 6-5 Jon Scheyer into a full-time point guard role.
Is this the future of Duke basketball, a team grabbing offensive rebounds with reckless abandon and holding opponents to 27.8 percent on 3-pointers, best in the nation? In short, it may have to be.
Krzyzewksi is a great coach, perhaps even the greatest. He's got three national championships, 11 Final Four appearances and 17 years with at least a share of the ACC title. To say those numbers are unmatched among active coaches isn't giving him enough credit.
Great coaches adjust. If Duke is going to fall short in recruiting the top talent – and players like Harrison Barnes and John Wall have recently slipped through Krzyzewksi's fingers – new strategies must be employed.
Height can win in basketball. It's a simple maxim, but it's the reason NBA teams are always reaching for 7-footers. In college, being the tallest team is even more essential. Combined with discipline and skilled perimeter play, height can be a dangerous weapon. Throw in a top-shelf coach, and you just might have your 2010 national champions.
Scouting the Blue Devils
Nolan Smith and Kyle SinglerNolan Smith and Kyle SinglerRecord: 33-5, 13-3 ACC
Coach: Mike Krzyzewksi (866-279 in 35 seasons with two teams, 74-22 in 26 NCAA Tournaments)
Last Final Four Appearance: 2004 semifinalists
Distance to Indianapolis: 654 miles from Durham, N.C.
Why they can win: Not only are the Blue Devils really tall, but no one else in Indianapolis can match up. That size will be the key, but Duke is much more than just a bunch of tall kids. Scheyer, Singler and guard Nolan Smith have really clicked lately, with Singler and Smith playing their best basketball of the season at the right time. Often, boasting three high-end scorers is essential, as it makes a team less vulernable to a single lock-down defender. Duke has reeled off 16 wins in 17 games, including eight straight, and a good case could be made they're the hottest team in the Final Four. In an Elite Eight matchup with Baylor, they proved they could handle a more athletic team. And Krzyzewksi is simply the most experienced coach in the country, if not the best.
Why they won't win: When Maryland beat Duke – the last time anyone did it – on March 3, the Terrapins did so by going right at the Blue Devils with no fear. It helps that senior Greivis Vasquez has never been scared of Duke, nearly posting a triple-double at Cameron Indoor Stadium as a freshman. But that game reinforced one rule – the only way to beat Duke is to attack them physically, and there may not be a team more up to that task than West Virginia. The Mountaineers, and potentially Michigan State, should the Spartans advance to the title game, are always in for a slugfest. Even Butler is more physical than the Blue Devils. Another key is getting one or two of the Big Three in foul trouble. It's tough to stop Scheyer, Singler and Smith when they're all out on the court. Then again, all three will likely play upwards of 35 minutes and combine to average 5.3 fouls per game.
Top NBA Prospect: Kyle Singer doesn't fit an NBA prototype. He's not enough of a 3-point shooter to make a living from deep. He's not enough of a ball-handler to play a point-forward role. He's not a good enough defender to lockdown opponents. But he's a well-rounded, proven college star who seems to have a good head on his shoulders. He's athletic enough to keep pace with a good number of shooting guards and small forwards in the league, and his skillset is more broad than most wing prospects. He's not the athlete Mike Dunleavy Jr., a former No. 3 overall pick, was at Duke, but he can also do a little bit of everything and help a winning team.
The X-Factor: Initially, Miles Plumlee didn't take his benching well. He hadn't been performing at the highest of levels, and Zoubek's play was enough to convince Krzyzewksi to hand over the starting job to the senior in mid-February. The move inspired Zoubek to lift his game, and in time, Plumlee has, too. The elder of the Plumlee brothers has averaged more than six rebounds per game in the NCAA Tournament, while also shooting better than 50 percent from the field. The 6-10 forward has ridiculous spring in his step, and he's no longer hesitant to bang inside, as he was as a freshman last year. Though Thomas and Zoubek shine brightest on the offensive boards, Plumlee is at his best on the defensive end, where he can use his pogostick leaping abilities to contest shots and then grab boards. In Duke's last two losses, Plumlee has accounted for just three rebounds. Last weekend, he grabbed 14 in two games. You do the math.

Also See:

Final Four Preview: Butler
Final Four Preview: West Virginia
Final Four Preview: Michigan State

HandDownManDown13's picture
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Good article. Just a note

Good article. Just a note though, Miles is the older brother, Mason is the younger. I think you may have confused them in the x factor part

Adi Joseph
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Thanks, I had done some
Thanks, I had done some moving around within that paragraph and must have copied the wrong thing
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Joined: 05/08/2009
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Strong article

I have couple questions though. These are not attacks on the writer only questions.
1. Why do you see Singler as a higher NBA prospect then Nolan Smith?
2. Duke has 6 McDonalds All-Americans, you don't consider that loaded?

As sais before it was good read. Hope hear back from you soon.

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