Nine days after getting handled in Charlottesville to the point it prompted me to write this column, Duke has offered a pointed rebuttal of those (and any other) concerns.
The Blue Devils ripped arch rival North Carolina at the Dean Dome on Saturday night, 69-53, capping a weeklong run where they have shown that Ryan Kelly is just fine, that Seth Curry doesn't need practice, and that everyone more than likely will be looking up at them on the NCAA's seed list next Sunday. Not only will the Blue Devils be a No. 1 seed, but they have a very good chance at this point to be the overall No. 1 seed, which would lock them into a cozy Philadelphia/Washington D.C. path.
Duke still has not lost with Ryan Kelly in the lineup, and given how volatile everything else has been this season, that's an extremely strong selling point. Kelly's ability to stretch the floor and create space for Mason Plumlee is a huge piece of Duke's offensive effectiveness and Kelly has been much better than advertised as a defender this season. But he's not the whole story. Curry is capable of big nights (like tonight). Mason Plumlee also came strong in Chapel Hill, another good sign. Duke's depth improved while Kelly was out, too.
No one's unbeatable this season and Duke's recent NCAA tournament history is dicey enough that its fans shouldn't be booking tickets to Atlanta just yet, but no one's managed to take them out so far when they're whole.
Elsewhere in the championship week picture...
- Valparaiso's Ryan Broekhoff did this to Wisconsin-Green Bay to put the Crusaders into the Horizon final...... after Wright State had done this to defending tournament champion Detroit in the other semifinal:(h/t @CBTonNBC and @ESPN)
- Belmont rallied from a late seven-point deficit to force overtime and then beat Murray State on a shot with 0.7 seconds left to win the Ohio Valley tournament and become the third team to qualify for the NCAA tournament (after Florida Gulf Coast, making its first-ever trip to the dance and Harvard, which again clinched off the court).
- Loyola Marymount's unexpected run in the WCC tournament ended in the semifinals at the hands of Gonzaga, which stretched a one-point halftime lead out into an eventual 66-48 win.
- Losses by Kansas (at Baylor) and New Mexico (at Air Force) give Gonzaga an even greater possibility of nailing down a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs if they win Monday night's WCC final.
- The other team people need to be watching out for is Louisville, which grabbed a share of the Big East regular-season title today and is very much back in the discussion for a 1-seed depending on how the major-conference tournaments go.
- Liberty (14-20) will be playing for the Big South auto-bid against Charleston Southern after upsetting Gardner-Webb in the semis.