Duke is on fire but can we trust Coach K’s Blue Devils in March?

DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - JANUARY 21: Vernon Carey Jr. #1 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after a play against the Miami (Fl) Hurricanes at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 21, 2020 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - JANUARY 21: Vernon Carey Jr. #1 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after a play against the Miami (Fl) Hurricanes at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 21, 2020 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Duke is playing their best basketball of the season but can we trust Coach K’s Blue Devils to get the job done in the NCAA Tournament?

The Duke Blue Devils fell short of the national title last year despite arguably the most talented roster Coach K has to work with in Durham. If he couldn’t win a national title, or even get to the Final Four, is it fair to question if he can get back with this year’s roster?

Duke has won seven in a row entering Wednesday night’s game with NC State and is leading the ACC. That seven-game win streak saw a win over then-No. 8 Florida State and a crazy comeback vs. North Carolina.

Sophomore point guard Tre Jones isn’t the world’s best shooter, but he is a great floor general and finds a way to make things happen when no one else can. Just look at his individual effort to spearhead the comeback win vs. North Carolina. If not for his shot-making, play-making and clutch genes taking over, Duke is not in first in the ACC and could be looking at a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Instead, Duke controls their destiny to win the ACC regular-season title for the first time since 2010. I almost can’t believe it’s been a decade since Duke, one of the best programs of all-time, won a regular-season conference title but it’s true.

It’s hard to wrap my brain around that stat like I’m watching Inception.

Jones is the glue and the veteran leader but freshman phenom Vernon Carey Jr. is the team’s best player. He leads the team with 17.6 points, 8.7 rebounds and1.5 blocks. He’s also shown the ability to shoot, something Duke has struggled with when they’ve fallen short of expectations. Carey is shooting 59.1 percent from the field but a robust 42.9 percent from 3-point range, which leads the team.

Not too bad for a 6-foot-10, 270-pound freshman center, huh?

The former five-star recruit was the crown jewel of Coach K’s recruiting class. While he wasn’t in the same stratosphere as Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett a year ago, Carey is a dominating presence in the low blocks for the Blue Devils.

The hype was justified for Zion and Barrett last year. They were freshmen All-Americans after all and the No. 1 and No. 3 picks in the NBA Draft. However, they fell short of a national title. Heck, they fell short of even making the Final Four.

It was viewed as a mighty disappointment for Coach K to squander the talent he had for one season. All they had to show for it was an ACC Conference Tournament championship and a trip to the Elite Eight.

So should we trust Duke to do what Zion and Barrett couldn’t?


This year is different. Everything changes. Carey doesn’t have to beat a team led by Zion and Barrett. He isn’t playing against their shadows.

The circumstances are completely different from last year or previous year’s when the Blue Devils failed to live up to their hype or NCAA Tournament seed. This isn’t a year when they lose to Mercer, but we’ve seen Duke fall short of the final game many times.

Yes, it’s tough to get to the Final Four and cut the nets down, but Coach K has shown he can do it as well as anyone since John Wooden.

Duke is likely looking at a 2-seed in the Big Dance provided they don’t go into a tailspin before the ACC Tournament. There is a chance they win the ACC and ACC Tournament and get a 1-seed. In order for that to happen, Dayton and/or San Diego State need to lose once. That’s not going to be easy since Dayton has only lost twice this year and San Diego State is undefeated. It’s not impossible but the odds aren’t in Duke’s favor. The most likely outcome may be seeing Kansas lose twice.

The Jayhawks play No. 1 Baylor on Saturday. The Jayhawks already lost by 12 to the Bears earlier this year. If Baylor beats them again and beats them in the Big 12 Tournament, or Kansas loses to anyone between now and the NCAA Tournament, Duke will pass them by on the 1-line.

Perhaps there is more pressure playing as a 1-seed compared to a 2-seed, but there’s no question the 1-seed gets an easier path to the Final Four. No matter what route Duke takes in the NCAA Tournament, it’s safe to trust this team.

They are led by a Hall of Fame coach, a veteran point guard who thrives in clutch situations and a dominating figure in the blocks who can drift out and knock down a big 3-pointer.

The Blue Devils are playing their best basketball at the right time of year. When you’re filling out your March Madness brackets next month, don’t have any fear or trepidation about backing Duke.

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