March Madness: 2016-17 Duke Blue Devils
Duke University, the epitome of the modern day college basketball powerhouse. A program that consistently has had its pick of McDonalds high school Americans. This team brought in the 2016-17 season with two National Player of the Year candidates in Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard. Also to help fortify this team they brought in Harry Giles Jr. who had NBA scouts salivating before he even stepped onto the campus in Durham, and not to mention a 6’8 Jason Tatum who can realistically play and guard 4 positions. What Duke did was attempt to mix all of those All- Americans to an already good team mixed with savvy college veterans such as Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson. Now to the average coach coming to work everyday and having a roster loaded like that would be an easy gig but not this year. Every year teams can have setbacks and this year produced several for the boys in black, white and blue.
So what happened this year? Well to start Grayson Allen happened this year. I’d like to qualify my analysis of this situation by sharing some information. I went to school with this guy; Providence School in Jacksonville, Florida led by Coach Martin. When I was on JV, Grayson was in middle school and from the beginning of basketball at Providence we were taught about sportsmanship and playing the right way. Now this year Grayson has had several temper tantrums, incidents of tripping players, which led to suspension and some random high filled emotional moments on the bench. In my opinion this isn't a representation of who Grayson is but more a sign of how much passion he plays the game with. You could even compare Grayson to Draymond Green in that aspect. Nonetheless, the distractions Allen caused early in the season as well as his suspension definitely hurt his team. Next, Coach Krzyzewski unfortunately had a run in with father time this season and missed a handful of games with a back injury. The team went 4-3 in that span which propelled Coach K to ban access to the locker room for his team during that stretch of time. For a team to lose a coach of that notoriety will most always account for some type of dip in production. Once Coach K got back and made adjustments, Grayson settled down, and Harry Giles Jr. started producing off the bench, everything turned around for the Blue Devils.
Coach K once again proved why he's considered one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time. Once he resumed his role as the leader of the team things instantly started changing. He removed Grayson out of the starting lineup, which has proven to be genius. You always have an advantage when you can rest your starters by subbing in another starter, especially against teams that don't have similar depth. Next, he let Luke and Jason take over. Luke Kennard has looked like the best player on this team for weeks. Armed with a deadly 3 point shot that creates shot fake and drive opportunities, and having good court vision, Luke has propelled himself to a high NBA draft pick likelihood. As for Jason, many analysts call him the best isolation player in college basketball, which speaks volumes. With the combination of these 3 Duke has inevitably been able to ride the coat tails of these three all stars while getting contribution from their role players only helps cushion their leads. Duke used all of this to win four games in four days and win another ACC championship. So what happens now?
The Duke Blue Devils were just placed as a number 2 seed in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament this year after winning the ACC championship handedly. That tournament run included a convincing win over North Carolina who somehow still received a number 1 seed despite the loss and a weaker schedule than Duke. The Blue Devils have played throughout adversity the entire year but have managed to bring it all together and start playing their best basketball at the perfect time. With an opening game against Troy, and a second round matchup vs. either South Carolina or Marquette, Duke seemingly has an easy walk to a third round appearance against Baylor. My opinion? Duke meets Villanova in the elite 8 and from there I think they move on to another round. If my prediction stands true, it would be a great finish and turnaround of the season for the team who in my opinion has the most talented roster when healthy.