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Will Blue Devils Continue to Roll?

A record was set tonight. The all-time Duke record for the most consecutive wins to start a season was tied today by this year’s Blue Devils, who moved to 17-0 with a win over N.C. State last night at Cameron Indoor Stadium. A win at Georgetown would set a record that no other Duke team has equaled. Ever. That means by any Duke team. Not Laettner and Hurley. Not Brand and Dunleavy. Not Battier and Williams, and the list goes on and on. This isn’t an imposing, fear-striking, dominating Number 1 team. So what gives? Why do they keep winning? And more importantly, shouldn’t they be stopped?
All records aside, his is not your typical top team in the country. This year’s team has a completely different makeup from last season, despite only losing one Senior, Daniel Ewing, from the Elite Eight disappointment. Although the playing rotation is almost entirely composed of Seniors and Freshmen, you see no rift between the Upperclassmen and the newcomers. Immediately, it became apparent to Greg Paulus and Josh McRoberts that they were not only welcome with open arms, but were going to be depended on immediately, no matter whose spotlight they may be sharing. After last year’s seven man rotation, depth on the bench was badly needed, and the infusion of energy from Paulus and McRoberts has created a unique situation where the oldest and youngest come together- creating a rare combination of urgency and unabashed youth. The early departure of Luol Deng and the cancelled arrival of Shaun Livingston left a hole in the middle of the program that was not filled by Sophomores and Juniors, but from the tenacity and determination of the incoming and the outgoing. Sure, Duke has their superstar tandem of Redick and Williams, but last year proved that two stars alone, no matter how good they may be, won’t win you six in the tournament. It wasn’t until McRoberts, Paulus and Sean Dockery began to define their roles that this year’s Blue Devil’s started to roll, despite how many points Williams and Redick knock down.

Can the Devils be beaten? Absolutely. Watch one game, and you know they don’t dominate, or intimidate teams. Duke gives up a lot of offensive rebounds, and any team with tall, athletic guys who can penetrate can make the game very interesting against the Devils (see Virginia Tech, Memphis). Williams, known by the Crazies as the Landlord, will get his blocks and his points, but so will his counterpart, as any scoring center knows that Duke’s lack of size forces Williams to play conservatively on defense. Redick, while still scoring, is not shooting as well as he was last year, since he has to work much harder for open looks. If a long, quick, explosive player is put on Redick, he has a much tougher time getting shots off. Redick has learned how to penetrate, but he isn’t fast enough to beat a fast defender without playing off his jump shot. If you can disrupt his shooting without having to commit defensively, you can contain J.J., as Rodney Carney of Memphis did. While the rest of the Devils can score points, they are only role players, and with one of them a still inexperienced freshman point guard, six straight victories in the NCAA tournament is far from a lock.

However, what is unique about  this team is that their infallibility plays to their advantage. If you watch this team, really watch them, you see a determination and desire from Redick all the way down to the last player on the bench. This year’s Devils know they aren’t dominating, so they play hard. On every play. Every player dives for loose balls, makes the extra pass, and can step up in clutch situations. Last night it was Dockery, not Redick or Williams, who made the big plays down the stretch, knocking down a key three pointer, and setting up another one with a rebound off his free throw miss to put the game out of reach. While Duke may have slip-ups early in a game, they never needs to be told when to step it up a notch. No team will be intimidated by Duke, but this Duke team knows what it takes to win any game.

This Duke team will probably lose a couple of games along the way. It is almost impossible to playa road schedule in the ACC and come away unscathed. However, you won’t see this number 1 team lose the way most do. You won’t see this team not show up, or take any game lightly, as what happens when most top teams are upset. They know they can be beaten, and every player in a Devils uniform will do anything they can not to let it happen.

You don’t look at this squad and see future NBA All Stars- in fact, these seniors have never even caught a faint whiff of a national championship. That is precisely why these Dukies are my pick to cut the nets down in March. They aren’t last year’s Tar Heels. They are an imperfect bunch of guys who pass and shoot well, and hustle like there is a fire in the gym. They aren’t imposing. They aren’t big.  They aren’t the most talented.  They can be beaten. They should be beaten.

Which is precisely why they won’t be.

4 replies on “Will Blue Devils Continue to Roll?”

Dukies I did not expect Duke to survive undefeated throughout ACC play, but losing to Georgetown definately came as a shocker to me.

I’m Surprised too Paulus showed his age today, and Duke is giving up an alarming number of offensive rebounds. Still, they fought like champions and almost battled back despite the mistakes against a team who was playing their A game. I’m not jumping off the bandwagon just yet.

Duke Duke wasn’t good enough to go undefeated to begin with. I don’t think another team will go undefeated in college basketball. The last college basketball team to go undefeated…1976 Indiana Hoosiers! Led by the General Bobby Knight. But besides that Georgetown executed perfectly yesterday. Just flat out great basketball.

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