Those are the seven reasons that the Duke Blue Devils were the most talked about team before the season, and why even brief stretches of poor play were met with a world-ending mentality. But Coach Mike Krzyzewski and the rest of his talented roster persevered. Through injuries to both players and the head coach, another tripping incident and the slow development of top recruit Harry Giles, everyone (myself included) was all but ready to write them off as a first weekend exit in the NCAA tournament and an instance of talent not trumping chemistry.
Then Duke did the impossible. They won four games in four days against the heart of the ACC, coming behind by more than eight points in the second half against Louisville, North Carolina and Notre Dame, all teams that figure to slot into the top four lines once the bracket comes out later tonight. There were times (really a lot of times) that they looked like the best team in the country, spacing the floor with quality three point shooters, letting Luke Kennard do the wooden-award-finalist things that he has been dong all year, and watching freshman Jayson Tatum throw middle fingers at every mock draft that has him outside of the top three.
The most dangerous part is that Grayson Allen is starting to look way more like 2016 Grayson. Or the Grayson that came off the bench against Wisconsin to spark an eventual title-winning run. Allowing a preseason Wooden Award candidate to come off the bench because Frank Jackson has earned a spot on the floor, looking like the downhill, athletic guard he was recruited to be is a luxury no other team in America has. It was also a luxury Duke didn’t have for nearly the whole season.
How much of their struggles can be attributed to health? It seemed like such an over-used excuse that it stopped carrying weight, but if you watched Duke in the ACC tournament, specifically Amile Jefferson, Grayson Allen, and Harry Giles, then compare it to tape from Miami or Syracuse a couple weeks ago, it seems like its a completely different team. Allen is back to attacking the basket with authority, Amile is blowing by flat-footed bigs from the three point line, and Harry Giles has turned into a blur of constant rebounding, effort, dunking and affecting shots. While his defense, specifically against the pick and roll, is still questionable, a seventh man with questionable pick and roll defense is minuscule knock on such a talented team.
Now how will this play out in the tournament? The real tournament, the NCAA tournament, the one that puts the big banners up in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Its extreme to now consider them a favorite. Inconsistency has never been a characteristic that indicates tournament success, and how many times can Duke come back from second half deficits? Certainly that can not sustain itself forever, but ask yourself who is more dangerous. When they are on, they are practically unbeatable, and if the last four games are any indication, they are on.