The Duke Blue Devils have been ranked near the top of the table all season, but do they have what it takes to win the title? They have undeniable talent with several future NBA players, and a legendary coach, but is that enough? And more importantly, can you bank on them to win enough to trust them with the fate of your own bracket?
With the 2014 March Madness NCAA Tournament rapidly approaching, predictions are popping up all over the place as fans prepare for their ultimate bracket challenge. Whether an office league, family pool, or an online quest for the perfect bracket to win a billion dollars, studying college basketball predictions is as routine as checking e-mails this month. While much emphasis is rightfully placed on predicting fun, first-round upsets, ultimately the pick that matters most and scores the most points is that of the National Champion. With the need to correctly choose the winner, let’s look at a team to watch this year: the Duke Blue Devils.
Can They Keep a Win Streak?
The ultimate question here is “Should Duke be the team that I write in the center of my bracket?”. They definitely are not clear favorites this year, as they did not even win the regular season ACC and had several notable losses down the stretch (Wake Forest and UNC most recently). However, they finished the season with a strong win versus #14 UNC as well as an impressive victory over #1 ranked Syracuse on February 22. In fact, this season Duke is 4-3 against ranked opponents this season (UNC was unranked when they upset Duke). While successful, they are far from dominant against ranked opponents this season. Their mediocre victory margin against ranked opponents this season is the first red flag for their championship hopes. Duke will need clutch victory after clutch victory, which is not something they have demonstrated thus far.
Is Jabari Parker a March Madness Hero?
The second big question surrounds Jabari Parker. This NBA draft prospect stud has put together a great freshman campaign, averaging 19.2 points and 9 rebounds per game. Largely considered a top 5 draft pick should he declare this year, this teenager has the capability to take over a game. Along with solid play from another projected first round pick, Rodney Hood, Parker will greatly influence Duke’s trajectory in the upcoming tournament. Parker is still young, and a lack of experience in the Big Dance might show itself, but with a veteran coach like Mike Kryzewski, Parker has a much better chance of staying grounded and focused, and ultimately leading his team to a title.
Will They Win the Big One?
Wins like the Syracuse game demonstrate that the Blue Devils have what it takes to take down the best. However, losses like the first rivalry matchup versus the Carolina Tar Heels demonstrate that they are also susceptible to losses, especially when the environment is fueled by emotions and negative energy. While they are certainly talented, March Madness often comes down to “guts” and late game heroics. These games show that Duke has the ability to win huge games, but can also let their environment get the best of them, so the question of “winning the big game” will only be answered by time.
Obviously, a future Hall of Fame coach is always a big advantage to have going into a tournament of this magnitude. Experience, knowledge, and insight from Coach K, along with some incredible talent in the form of Parker, Hood, and others will be this team’s strengths moving forward. What remains to be seen is if the Blue Devils will be able to pull all of that together and be consistent long enough to win the title.
Gambling websites, such as Vegas Insider, give Duke a 10/1 shot at winning the title, pushing Florida, Kansas, Arizona, and Wichita State as more likely victors. Those odds seem valid considering the way the team has performed throughout the season. Duke has a great chance of being a Final Four visitor, but they definitely have some mountains to overcome this month in order to win the 2014 title.