Duke: Overrated or Really Overrated?

December 11th, 2006
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Polls Giving Blue Devils Typical Duke Treatment

The college basketball polls have officially followed the lead of ACC officials. That’s right, they’re giving preferential treatment to Coach K and the Duke Blue Devils.

I mean how is Duke ranked 6th in both the ESPN/USA Today poll and its AP counterpart? Granted I don’t care that much about anything other than the final rankings in the first week of April, and nobody else should either, but this is just ridiculous. Nobody in their right mind can argue that Duke is the seventh best team in college basketball. Not even the craziest of the Cameron Crazies can look me in the eye and tell me the Blue Devils are a top 10 team without losing every ounce of his or her credibility.

Duke was ranked 11th in the preseason ESPN/USA Today poll and 12th in the first AP poll, and I understand that the Devils have moved up a few spots as higher-ranked teams dropped a few games. But if you ranked teams based on their performance so far in 2006 without taking any preseason expectations into account, Coach K would not even be sniffing the top 10.

Just take a brief look at the Duke’s schedule through the first nine games of the season. Folks, you will notice that the Blue Devils have not played one real road game yet. Seven of their nine contests were played in Cameron Indoor Stadium and Duke dared to venture all the way out to Kansas City for the other two games as part of the CBE Classic. Let me pause briefly to applaud Coach K for not insisting on hosting the tournament at Cameron Indoor and actually agreeing two play two solid opponents on a neutral court.

He’s probably regretting that decision. After defeating a mediocre Air Force squad by 12, Duke faced the only legitimate top 25 team its faced all season—Marquette. The Blue Devils hung around for about the first 30 minutes of the game, but we found out who the better team was in a hurry when crunch time rolled around. The Golden Eagles were more athletic and simply outplayed and outclassed the young Devils en route to an emphatic 73-62 victory.

Upon returning to Cameron, Duke defeated Bob McKillop and the 2006 SoCon Champion Davidson Wildcats before hosting Indiana in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. Indiana basketball is a far cry from what it once was, so don’t even begin to tell me that a 54-51 win over the Hoosiers is anything special. In fact, the only thing it tells me is that these Blue Devils are mired in mediocrity even within their own friendly confines of Cameron Indoor.

Then the Blue Devils had to come from behind once again to beat Georgetown, a team that is arguably even more overrated than Duke. The Hoyas were 8th in the nation in both preseason polls, but needless to say they are no longer a part of either poll after losses to Old Dominion, Oregon, and Duke. Both the Old Dominion and Oregon losses came at home and neither contest was close. So don’t even try to tell me that coming back from seven-point halftime deficit to beat Georgetown by 9 at home is a quality win. It just isn’t.

On Wednesday the Blue Devils played host to the perennial college basketball powerhouse that is Holy Cross. And by college basketball powerhouse I mean the Crusaders contend every now and then in the Patriot League. Well, after sleepwalking through the first half, Duke found itself down 28-22 to Holy Cross at the intermission. The Blue Devils ultimately prevailed with an uninspiring 57-45 victory, and what struck me while watching the last 10 minutes of the game was that the Cameron Crazies were genuinely excited as their boys put the Crusaders away. I understand it’s their job to go crazy, but I could tell the general feeling among the multitude was one of satisfaction and even happiness. Yes, the current state of the 2006 Duke Blue Devils is one that forces the Blue Devil following to be content with a narrow victory over the Holy Cross Crusaders.

Then again, why shouldn’t such a victory be worthy of euphoria? When you consider Duke’s 2006 roster, maybe it should. Josh McRoberts is the real deal, but I’d rather hit the snooze button than talk about the rest of the Blue Devils’ roster. But for the purpose of this article, I will persevere and do so.

DeMarcus Nelson is enjoying a rather solid season, but the fact that he is consistently Duke’s second most prolific scoring threat—behind McRoberts—is simply laughable. The junior guard is much better suited for a complimentary role like the one he played last season in support of J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams.

Greg Paulus is one of the worst Duke point guards in recent memory, and that’s scary considering he might be the third best player on this roster.

The freshmen are pretty good, but grossly overrated. None more than Gerald Henderson, who eventually could become a really good college basketball player, but for the time being is just a nasty athlete. There’s nothing wrong with ridiculous athleticism, but what Duke needs after losing Redick and Williams are guys who can consistently put the ball in the basket.

Freshman Jon Scheyer can do that…when he’s playing puffcake competition. Right now Scheyer is a poor man’s freshman version of Redick. He is almost lethal from downtown when he’s left open, but Scheyer would have had to play back in the era of no shot clock in order to have enough time to create his own shot. Just look at his stats in the three games Duke played against major-conference teams; games in which Scheyer was guarded by the kinds of guys he’ll be hounded by the rest of the season in ACC play. Scheyer was 0 for 5 from the field and scored just three points in the loss to Marquette. He scored 10 points on a woeful 2-for-10 performance against Indiana, and followed that up with a pedestrian 5-point showing on 2-for-5 shooting in the win over Georgetown.

In the middle, 7-1 freshman Brian Zoubek isn’t going to make anyone forget Shelden Williams anytime soon. Sure he is a valuable addition to the squad and could turn out to be a terror for the opposition, but Zoubek has a long way to go, especially on the defensive side of the floor. Let’s just say he is not ‘The Landlord’ and leave it at that.

While this is one of the few years of the Krzyzewski era in which the Blue Devils will be done in by having inferior talent, the nail in Duke’s coffin is going to be a lack of depth. After the starting five of Paulus, Nelson, Scheyer, freshman Lance Thomas, and McRoberts, Coach K doesn’t have much at his disposal right now.

Zoubek has been consistently getting less than 10 minutes per contest off the bench. Sophomore David McClure is Duke’s seventh man at the moment, but when McClure gets put in the game he does not evoke thoughts of wow, Duke is pretty deep. He evokes thoughts of wow, Duke must not be deep at all if David McClure is on the floor.

And such a thought would be right on the money, especially when you compare Duke’s bench to some other ACC squads. At Georgia Tech, coach Paul Hewitt substitutes more guys at one time than Krzyzewski does over an entire 40 minutes. So does Roy Williams at UNC. The Tar Heels are ten strong right now. Roy brought in so many diaper dandies I almost forgot that Danny Green and Marcus Ginyard were still on the team. If those two guys were Dukies, both of them would be logging minutes that would have ACC commissioner John Swafford imposing labor laws in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke basically has a seven-man rotation at the moment, eight if you count Zoubek, and then you only reach nine with Martynas Pocius, who would be a far-end-of-the-bench kind of guy on any previous Duke team.

I guess you can partly forgive voters for putting Duke at No. 6 in the nation, simply because the top teams in the nation have actually been playing stellar early-season competition and have understandably beat each other up. For example, No. 9 Alabama lost at Notre Dame on Thursday and dropped below Duke in this week’s ranking. But please, don’t kid yourself by thinking that means Duke is anywhere close to as good as the Crimson Tide.

The Duke Blue Devils are No. 6 right now for three reasons. First, they haven’t played one game on an opponent’s home floor. Second, they’ve played just one legitimate top 25 team, and therefore have only one loss. Third and foremost, they’re Duke. The name “earned” them an inflated preseason ranking and will continue to enhance their standing throughout the season.

So once Duke is finally forced to play out their ACC schedule, all the “experts” are going to be hailing their losses as “upsets” when the Devils drop games to teams like Georgia Tech, Maryland, Virginia, and Florida State. Don’t buy into that for a second. You’ll know it’s just the natural result of a 2006 Duke team that just isn’t very good.