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Scouting the Contenders 2019: Duke Blue Devils

Tre Jones, Duke
As March Madness slowly inches closer and closer, "Scouting the Contenders" takes a look at some of the nation's best teams in a chaotic race, and scouts their strengths and weaknesses and just how far they could go in the NCAA Tournament. We continue with the nation's new No. 1 squad, the Duke Blue Devils.

Track Record

  • 23-2 overall record, 11-1 in the ACC
  • Notable Victories: vs. Kentucky 118-84, vs. Texas Tech 69-58, @ Virginia 81-71
  • Losses to Gonzaga 89-87 & Syracuse 95-91
  • Has won nine consecutive games
  • Averaging 86.4 points per game, fourth in the nation
Scouting Report: The hype surrounding 2018-2019 Duke has been intense since Zion Williamson's commitment last winter, and the Blue Devils have not disappointed. Spearheaded by Williamson and three other impressive freshmen, Duke has jumped to a 23-2 record and looks like they'll lock down the new No. 1 spot in the AP poll following Tennessee's loss over the weekend. With perhaps the most impressive resume in the entire country, Duke is certainly the favorite to earn the No. 1 overall seed come Selection Sunday, roughly a month out. But, is this youthful team really ready to go on a deep NCAA Tournament run, or will it eventually catch up with them? Any team that wants to take down Duke will have to find a way to slow down Williamson, who has looked like a man amongst boys for much of the season. He's stuffing the stat sheet, posting averages of 22.4 PPG, 9.2 RPG and 2.3 SPG while shooting 68% from the field. Williamson is also absolutely dominant in transition, which can help overcome some of his shooting woes that may show up in the half-court set. With that being said, Williamson may not be the most crucial piece on this Duke squad, which has to fall to point guard Tre Jones. Jones' ability to run the offense is what really makes Duke go, and he has asserted himself as one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. This is going to be important, because the Blue Devils aren't a superb defensive team, no matter what Zion's highlight-reel blocks may look like. Of course, we also have to talk about the other freshmen in Duke's feared foursome, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish. Barrett is probably the team's best all-around scorer but consistency continues to haunt him. The same can be said about Reddish, although when he is hot from deep, he is next to unstoppable. The four of them make up what will probably go down as one of the greatest freshman classes in college basketball history, if not the best. Yet, talent doesn't always win when it comes to March, when poor shooting sand other chaos can shake things up. We've seen our fair share of talented freshmen teams run into a wall in the NCAA Tournament and even with four future NBA pieces, the same can happen to the Blue Devils. Its also important to point out that this team does have some deficiencies beyond just inexperience, most notably a lack of depth and lack of a true post presence. With such talent in their starting lineup, the Blue Devils haven't needed to go deep very often this season, but could the wear and tear of a long tournament start to wear on them? I also think that this is a team that could really get exposed in the paint. Sure, the necessity of a true big man has been diminished in modern basketball, with the growth of three-point shot, but it can still be a problem. How will Duke look to defend and rebound against teams that run their most of their offense through the post, such as Tennessee? They may not seem like huge issues, but they can become a factor in March Madness, and perhaps make all the difference in a competitive game.

The Verdict: With so much pure talent, its hard to imagine a scenario in which Duke doesn't put together some type of NCAA Tournament run., Now, it will be interesting to see whether that is say, an Elite Eight type run or another National Title under Coach K's belt. The only issues that I could see standing in their way has got to be the inexperience, and perhaps depth. Yet, it is also going to be necessary for somebody else to play superb basketball against them, like Gonzaga and Syracuse have done in their lone two losses. Just look at the Louisville game a week ago; the Blue Devils had a terrible shooting night for much of it and Louisville played solid, yet Duke was still able to come down from over 20 points. With that in mind, it looks pretty obvious that Duke is the favorite at this point in the season. That doesn't mean they're going to win, but they do still look head and shoulders above a number of other top contenders. 

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