Devilish time awaits NCAA tournament field
The last time Duke swept a season series with North Carolina, coach Mike Krzyzewski cut down the nets for his fourth national championship.
Similarities do not end there between the 2013 Blue Devils and their contemporaries. This year's squad compiled an impressive 27-4 record and secured the No. 2 seed in this weekend's ACC Tournament despite playing without one of its leading scorers for two months.
Without Ryan Kelly, Duke was 9-4 in conference play. While solid, to be sure, the Blue Devils were a whopping 18-0 with Kelly. In the non-conference portion of its schedule, Krzyzewski's group defeated fellow title contenders Louisville and Ohio State.
Of all the accolades this season, perhaps the season's greatest accomplishment for this group of seniors — which includes Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry and Kelly — is an unblemished record against the Tar Heels. All of this sets up for high drama in the final three weeks of March.
In 2001, Duke had a trio of highly-recruited players who carried the team to a championship. Again in 2010, Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer replicated the success of Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Shane Battier, by bagging another title.
The case can be made this year's version of the big three pales in comparison to the talent level of either of the former Duke teams — particularly the '01 juggernaut. But the talent level of other teams in college basketball this season is similarly diminished in a watered-down field of teams constituted of one-and-done players.
While Kansas trots out freshman phenom Ben McLemore and Michigan State throws first-year sharpshooter Gary Harris at opponents in the tournament, Krzyzewski is met by knowing glances from familiar faces. A triumvirate of seniors must bring him comfort as the season away from Cameron Indoor begins.
Suddenly, what was once a lineup laden with offensive weapons has now become a complete team. The development of Rasheed Sulaimon and Quinn Cook and improved health of Curry's gimpy ankle has substantially improved Duke's guard play. Finally, the insertion of Kelly into the revamped lineup gives the Devils four players on the perimeter capable of scoring in double figures, something no other team can boast.
Sure, the favorites to win yet another ACC Tournament title will likely have to deal with well-coached teams from Louisville and Indiana; but betting against a four-time national champ and three cerebral seniors seems like a fool's wager.
Staff Writer Daniel Kennedy can be reached at 888-3575, or firstname.lastname@example.org.