by TRINI ANDREW
It’s March Madness time and millions of people will be filling out brackets, dominating lunchtime conversations and shirking work duties to see how their brackets are doing. The big question on everyone’s lips are the same. “Who did you pick to win it all? There are a lot of teams capable of winning in a wide-open year but one team stands out to me and that is the Duke Blue Devils.
The first thing one must remember about NCAA basketball championship’s is they are primarily won by coaches not players.
College basketball coaches exert a much higher degree of influence on their team’s fortunes since they create the offense and then find the players that fit the system and none are better than this that the active championships leader with 5, Mike Krzyzewski. There are only about 7 other active coaches with NCAA championships as one of them Jim Boeheim is headlining the junior circuit tournament this year, the NIT.
One of the allures of March Madness is the spectacle of amateurism which is really just another way of saying that all of the team’s best players are still just 18-20 years old and there really is no way to prepare for the intense pressure cooker environment as well as the specter of a poor performance potentially costing them millions of dollars.
This Duke team, preseason poll favorites, “underwhelmed” in the regular season mainly due to a rash of injuries to their top players as well as Coach K. As soon as most pundits were writing them of as National Championship contenders, they have started to gel and won the ACC Championship by recording impressive victories over Notre Dame, UNC and Louisville.
What makes this team so difficult to defeat when healthy is the fact that there three best players (Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard and Jayson Tatum) are all good 3 point shooters, very good free throw shooters and do not turn the ball over much. Winning in the NCAA Mens tournament could be as simple as passing the ball, making your open three pointers and free throws.
Other teams might have more shinier stars, Arizona with Lauri Markkanen , UCLA with Lonzo Ball, Kansas with Josh Jackson and Kentucky with Malik Monk but there’s a significant drop off for those teams’ second and third best players so there is a much finer margin for error. They can ill afford even one half of less than stellar play from their best players. Meanwhile, this Duke teams have already sharpened their identity as the comeback kids having shown the ability to come back from double digit second half leads due to efficient scoring and timely defense.
This Duke team is probably the most talented team in the tournament with four potential lottery picks, Kennard, Allen and Harry Giles including likely top five pick in Jayson Tatum and possess an enviable combination of size and skill. Senior role players such as Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson are looking to join the elite company of multiple championship winners and Grayson Allen still has fond memories of scoring 16 points as a freshman off the bench for the Blue Devils in the championship game two years ago. If they get any reasonable production from their big men, the 2017 NCAA Men’s Tournament Championship will belong to the Duke Blue Devils.