It’s the same story every year.
Mike Krzyzewski does a “phenomenal coaching job” with “less athletic” but “intelligent, fundamentally sound” basketball players. Duke runs through the ACC schedule with between 11 and 13 wins, sometimes more, and come March the country seems to think the Devils are ready for a run at national title.
In the past eight seasons, the Devils have gone a combined 94-29 in ACC games. What do they have to show for it? One final four appearance and no other games past the sweet sixteen.
It’s happening again this year. Duke is surging through the ACC and has all but locked up the regular season title.
Fact of the matter is, winning the ACC isn’t all it used to be cracked up to be.
In the past six seasons (since the conference expanded to 11, and eventually 12 teams), only North Carolina has made it past the Sweet Sixteen; the Heels and Devils are the only teams to make it to the tournament’s second weekend in that span.
It simply is not as tough to make it through the ACC schedule in 2010 as it was in 1990. While conferences like the Big East soar in the conference expansion era, the ACC is losing its luster.
This is evidenced by the fact that Duke controls the conference during the regular season, then fizzles in tournament play.
Let’s look at the scores of recent tournament games that eliminated the Blue Devils:
2009: (3) Villanova 77, (2) Duke 54 – Villanova couldn't carry the momentum of a 23-point win to a national title, and would go on to lose in the Final Four to North Carolina 83-69.
2008: (7) West Virginia 78, (2) Duke 63 – The Mountaineers blew out the Blue Devils, then bowed out to Atlantic 10 powerhouse Xavier in the next round.
2007: (11) Virginia Commonwealth 79 (6) Duke 77 – that’s right, the Colonial Athletic Association champs handed Duke a one-way ticket to Durham on the tournament’s first night.
2006: (4) LSU 62, (1) Duke 54 – The J.J. Redick era ended tragically with a loss to the Tigers, led by rising star Tyrus Thomas, who's still trying to find a consistent jump shot.
It hasn’t been a good run in March for Duke lately. Unfortunately for Cameron Crazies, the formula of playing three or four players 35 minutes or more per game and relying on those players for nearly 70% of your scoring only gets you so far.
The triumvirate of Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler are imposing for sure, but if you take away their averages, the rest of the team scores 26 points per game.
In 2006-07, Duke played four starters over 30 minutes per game, and only two players off the bench averaged more than 10 minutes per game. College athletes aren’t built to handle that sort of endurance test, and that’s part of the reason why teams like VCU can shock the world come March.
In 2005-2006, Duke also used a seven-man rotation. Even with national player of the year J.J. Redick on its side, the Devils still fizzled out in the sweet sixteen despite a number one seed.
It just doesn’t work to have a couple of the best fundamental players in the country and little else. Teams with deep, athletic, experienced teams are the ones that win championships.
That used to be the case in Durham, when names like Jay Williams, Carlos Boozer, Trajan Langdon, Grant Hill, Elton Brand, Shane Battier, and Chris Duhon slapped the Cameron Indoor hardwood.
Any players like that that have come through Duke recently have not managed to stay very long, like Josh McRoberts and Luol Deng to name a few.
Until the formula for success at Duke gets an overhaul, Blue Devil fans should just remain content with regular season glory and postseason flops.
--note: this post was meant to be written with bias against the Blue Devils and a response to criticism for lack of substance when discussing Duke basketball. This in no way reflects the future of this blog as an objective and mudslinging source of writing.