It's mid-March, which means that, per usual, the Duke Blue Devils have rounded into form ahead of the NCAA Tournament. Duke, which was named a No. 1 seed despite not winning either the ACC's regular season title or its postseason tournament, will look to win its fifth national championship in early April. While Kentucky is certainly considered the favorite heading into the tournament, Duke is another hot pick to cut down the nets. The Blue Devils have played in every NCAA Tournament since 1995.
We've gone through and listed out the top five reasons that Duke could win it all this year. The Blue Devils are one of the most talented teams in the country, and certainly have a championship pedigree to go with it.
1. A Favorable Route
The NCAA Tournament is never predictable, but there aren't many people who believe that Duke is going to have a hard time at least getting to the Elite Eight. The Blue Devils kick things off with either North Florida or Robert Morris, and are almost guaranteed to win vs. whichever 16-seed they face. Next, they get the winner of San Diego State vs. St. John's.
The Aztecs are one of the most anemic offensive teams in the field, which is a serious problem playing Duke. The Blue Devils, according to kenpom.com, are the third-most efficient offensive team in the country. On the other side. St. John's has suspended 6-foot-10 center Chris Obekpa for the entire tournament. If the Red Storm gets by SDSU, Jahlil Okafor is going to face little resistance down low.
If Duke can roll both opponents, they'll most likely get either Georgetown or Utah in the Sweet 16. The Hoyas are perhaps the most overseeded team in the field. The Utes are probably the biggest threat to the Blue Devils early on, but they don't feature the same level of talent. Bottom line? Duke is set up perfectly to reach the Elite Eight. What the Blue Devils do from there is up for debate.
In 2015, having experience in college basketball doesn't necessarily mean that players on the team have played together for years - just look at Kentucky. Duke is in a similar spot. The Blue Devils, led by two freshmen - Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor - played one of the toughest schedules in the country this year. They're as battle-tested as you can be heading into an NCAA Tournament.
On top of playing an always-tough ACC schedule, Duke took on Michigan State, Temple, Stanford, Wisconsin and UConn in non-conference matchups. The Blue Devils knocked off all of them, along with ACC tournament teams Louisville, NC State, Notre Dame, Virginia and North Carolina. They've taken on top talent all year and prevailed more often than not.
Kentucky is realistically the only team in the country that should scare Duke. But if the Wildcats and Blue Devils do meet, it'll be in the title game. Anything can happen.
3. Guard Play
As we've seen over the years, solid guard play is essential to winning a college basketball national championship. It won't surprise you to hear that Duke has an incredible set of guards on its roster.
Freshman Tyus Jones is one of the most talented players in the country, despite his relatively small frame. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound guard is extremely well-rounded, averaging 11.6 points per game, 5.8 assists per game and 3.6 rebounds per game. He also shoots 38% form 3-point land, but can get to the rim when needed. He's a problem for any opponent.
Quinn Cook and Matt Jones, meanwhile, are your typical Duke guards who can light it up from three. Cook, a 40% shooter from deep, averages nearly 16 points per game. If he's on, the Blue Devils won't lose.
2. Jahlil Okafor
Simply put, there are very few big men in the country as developed as Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor. Okafor, the top overall recruit in the country a year ago, was nothing short of spectacular in his (likely) only year on campus. The 6-foot-11 center averaged 17.7 points per game and nine rebounds per game. That doesn't take into account how disruptive he is in the paint on defense.
More than anything, Okafor is a matchup problem. If a team playing against Duke doesn't have an elite defender in the post, he will have his way. The only way to slow him down? Foul him and make him shoot free throws. But that isn't exactly a solid game plan.
The combination of Okafor and solid 3-point shooting guards is terrifying for any opposing coach. But it's still not the No. 1 reason that Duke could win this year's title.
1. Coach K
Yes, Duke has lost a few head-scratchers in recent NCAA tournaments, but Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski is still the best in the business. Coach K, the all-time wins leader in college basketball, has won the NCAA Tournament four times - and most recently in 2010. His teams have reached the Final Four 11 times. His teams have played in the NCAA Tournament title game eight times. Every few years, he gets it done.
There is no coach with more experience in the Big Dance, and when it comes down to it, there is no man you'd rather have leading your team in March. Coach K won't be rattled by the moment - he's been there before.
Duke, with its combination of talent and coaching prowess, is one of the favorites to win this year's tournament. Now you know why.