NCAA tournament team previews: Duke Blue Devils
As part of its preview of the 2015 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. RPI and SOS data from realtimerpi.com. Adjusted offense and defense are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team’s national rank. For more teams, click here.
Record: 29-4 (15-3 in ACC)
Adjusted offensive/defensive efficiency: 122.0 (3rd)/96.1 (57th)
Seed: No. 1 in South
Impact player: Jahlil Okafor, freshman, center: 17.7 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 117.7 O-rating
The Case For: Only Kentucky has more talent than Duke, which boasts eight McDonald's All-Americans and, in Okafor, point guard Tyus Jones and wing Justise Winslow—all freshmen—three potential first-round picks in the upcoming NBA draft. And no team can match the Blue Devils' impressive wins: They won at Wisconsin, at Virginia—the only team to beat the Cavaliers when Justin Anderson was healthy—and at St. John's while beating Michigan State on a neutral court (as well as NIT teams Connecticut, Stanford and Temple), sweeping North Carolina and beating Notre Dame by 30 in Cameron Indoor Stadium (though they did lose twice to the Fighting Irish).
Okafor is easily Duke's best and most important player, with an array of post moves that makes him almost impossible to stop in the paint. Jones is similarly hard to guard off the dribble, and he averages 5.8 assists against just 2.1 turnovers, while senior Quinn Cook makes 40% from three-point range and averages 15.7 points per game as one of the nation's most overlooked players.
As a team the Blue Devils make nearly 39% from deep and take more than a third of their shots from outside but that hasn't stopped them from posting the nation's fourth-best effective field goal percentage.
The Case Against: Duke has a thin bench, little tournament experience and is susceptible to dangerous defensive lapses, all of which could spell doom in this tournament. The dismissal of guard Rasheed Sulaimon has left the Blue Devils with only six players who average double-figure minutes, though junior center Marshall Plumlee and freshman guard Grayson Allen have shown improved play since Sulaimon was kicked off the team in late January. Cook is the only senior on scholarship, and as a team the Devils rank 330th in experience. He and juniors Plumlee and Amile Jefferson are the only ones who have won a game in the NCAA tournament, and those latter two played a combined 17 minutes total in those victories, all of which came in 2013.
The real hurdle for Duke will be stopping dribble penetration, which prompted a midseason alteration by coach Mike Krzyzewski to start playing more 2-3 zone. Only six teams shot at least 50% against the Blue Devils this season, but that included all four of their losses plus an overtime win at Virginia Tech. Okafor is a passive defender in the post whose main goal is to not foul, so teams with size can attack him inside.
SI prediction: Beat North Florida in Round of 64, beat San Diego State in Round of 32, beat Utah in Sweet 16, beat Gonzaga in Elite Eight, beat Virginia in Final Four, lose to Kentucky in national championship game