After Zion Williamson’s impressive return to Duke’s lineup last weekend, the Blue Devils blazed their way through the ACC Tournament and earned the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed in the process. Williamson, for his part, erased any doubts about his post-injury effectiveness by averaging 27 points and 10 rebounds per game over the three-game stretch. In the process, he became the first player in ACC history to win the conference’s Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and Tournament MVP honors. He’s…pretty good:
watching this Zion Williamson steal and dunk on repeat forever
— SB Nation (@SBNation) March 16, 2019
Stacked with three potential lottery picks in Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Cam Reddish, Duke looks poised to make a championship run. Consider the following:
- Duke is 26-2 when Williamson averages normal minutes.
- The Blue Devils were 5-1 against teams that reached its conference tournament this season.
- Tre Jones is on fire. He scored 44 points, had 18 assists, and was on the floor for all but 16 seconds of the ACC Tournament. He’s not as heralded as some of his fellow teammates, but he’s playing at a high level at the right time.
- Plus, killers kill.
Might as well cancel the tournament. We have a winner, right?
Not so fast. Consider the following before backing Duke in your March Madness betting.
Despite Duke’s pedigree and strong finish in the wake of Williamson’s return, there’s plenty of reasons Duke could fall flat on its face in this tournament. How? Here three reasons and change why Duke will not win the NCAA Tournament.
Also, for those of you in New Jersey looking to bet against the Blue Devils, here’s our list of the best NJ sportsbooks for March Madness:
Duke Cannot Shoot the Three
I don’t get how in 2019 one of the nation’s top basketball teams cannot shoot from beyond the arc, particularly when it’s Duke, a school notorious for sharp shooters. It’s not just that the Blue Devils are a mediocre three-point shooting team, or a less than inspiring one, they’re flat-out brutal. Duke’s 30.2% three-point shooting ranks an unthinkable 340th in the country. 340th! Cam Reddish and R.J. Barrett each lead the team in three-pointers attempted per game by far, but are shooting 32.7% and 30.4% from long distance, respectively. Jack White and Tre Jones are next in attempts and are each shooting under 30% from deep. Duke’s interior scoring ability is elite, and if its regular season performance from three is any indication of what’s to come, it will need to be. Brick City. Population: Duke.
The Overall Top Seed Has Struggled To It All In Recent Years
Let’s first acknowledge the overall dominance of No. 1 seeds in the tournament. Since it first expanded to a field of 64, No. 1 seeds have won roughly 80% of their total games. They’re 135-1 in the first round. Of the 68 teams to play in the championship game over the last 34 years, 32 of them have been No. 1 seeds and 20 champions have been No. 1 seeds. But what about the tournament’s overall top seed?
Duke looks tough to beat, but so have plenty of other overall top seeds that have tumbled in recent years. In fact, only three overall top seeds have won the tournament since 2005. The last team to do it was Louisville in 2013. Kentucky did it in 2012, and Florida cut down the nets in 2007. That’s it. So while both history and the Blue Devils’ seemingly easy path to the Final Four likely means a trip to Minneapolis, it doesn’t mean they will win it all.
Nagging Inconvenient Truths Will Trip Them Up
Duke’s path to the Final Four is admittedly an easy one, but once they get there, it’s a different story. The Blue Devils lost one game this season when it had its full compliment of players. Their opponent? The Gonzaga Bulldogs. If both teams reach the Final Four, Duke and Gonzaga will meet in one of the semifinal matchups. If that Nov. 21 game taught us anything, it’s that Brandon Clarke, Rui Hachimura, Zach Norvell Jr., and Josh Perkins can go head-to-head with Duke’s more celebrated players and come out victorious.
And let’s talk real quick about UNC. The Tar Heels smacked around Duke twice when it didn’t have Williamson, but it’s not like the Blue Devils blew their doors off this past weekend. It was a one point win in a hotly-contested battle, one that wasn’t decided until the final second:
— Vasu Kulkarni (@Vasu) March 16, 2019
It was that close. Duke’s record with Williamson is impressive, but let’s not act like they’re an infallible bunch.
And what happens if Williamson gets into early foul trouble, or he’s out for a prolonged stretch? Who’s stepping up? Barrett, Reddish, and Jones are each talented players, but didn’t exactly inspire much confidence sans Williamson. That 3-3 mark in his absence exposes a harsh truth about this team–they need him to be great to win it. Two losses to UNC and one to Virginia Tech aren’t shameful defeats, but that 71-70 win in Durham over an atrocious Wake Forest squad was downright concerning.
Speaking of concerns for Duke, the inconsistent play of forward Cam Reddish is another. Since the Blue Devils’ Feb. 26 loss to Virginia Tech, Reddish has 23 turnovers and only 8 assists. He’s failed to eclipse 29% shooting from the floor in four of those seven games, and over his last four games, he’s 6-25 from three, an ugly 24%.
I know. It’s easy to grab your bracket, go game-by-game, and come out with Duke as the winner, but before you do just that, it’s worth considering the information above.