The Oregon Ducks head into the Sweet Sixteen in Anaheim, California to face the Duke Blue Devils. Time to get a better look at the defending champions.
Record- 25-10 overall, 11-7 in ACC
Key wins- vs Louisville 72-65, vs Virginia 63-62, at North Carolina 74-73
Key losses- vs Kentucky 74-63, vs Utah 77-75 (OT), vs Notre Dame (twice)
2016 NCAA Tournament: 93-85 over 13 seeded UNC-Wilmington. 71-64 over 12 seeded Yale.
Certainily an up and down season for the defending champions. After key players Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor left for the NBA it was up to sophomore Grayson Allen and incomer Brandon Ingram to carry the load for the Blue Devils. Duke played well in the early going of the season until an overtime loss in Madison Square Garden to the Utah Utes slowly turned the pages.
Once ACC play started, Duke got off to a rough start. Over a span of five games, the Blue Devils lost four dropping them out of the top-25. That stretch included losses to fellow Sweet Sixteen teams Notre Dame, Syracuse, and Miami. Duke responded in a way only they could though by rattling off three straight wins over top #15 ranked Louisville, Virginia and North Carolina. From February 20th to the end of the ACC tournament the Blue Devils alternated wins and losses.
After being eliminated from the ACC tournament by Notre Dame in overtime, the Blue Devils were tasked with a first round matchup of the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks. The Seahawks did their best to pull the upset, even holding a half time lead, but the talent was too much as Duke snagged an 8 point victory. Facing yet another double digit seed in the second round in the Yale Bulldogs, Duke this time needed to weather the storm. After jumping out to a 48-25 halftime lead, the Bulldogs stormed back to push the Blue Devils to just a seven point victory.
Grayson Allen, #3, Sophomore guard, 6' 5", 205 lbs.
PPG: 21.8 RPG: 4.5 APG: 3.5
As I mentioned in my look at the top players in the West Region, Allen has taken over as the leader for this Duke team. He carried over his coming out party of 16 points in the National Championship game into this season where he's been the teams leading scorer. A really nice start for the tournament for Allen as well as he's averaged 26 points, 6 rebounds and three assists in the two games. It'll be key to keep him off of the free throw line, in the tournament opener Allen shot 17 free throws knocking down 15.
Brandon Ingram, #14, Freshman wing, 6' 9", 190 lbs.
PPG: 17.1 RPG: 6.8 APG: 1.9
While Allen is the high point man on the team, Ingram is a well balanced player who many are now projecting as the number one pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Ingram is off to a good start in his first NCAA tournament, so far averaging 22.5 points, 7 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Like I mentioned before, the concern is that his scoring dips by nearly three points vs Top-25 ranked teams.
Marshall Plumlee, #40, Senior center, 7' 1", 250 lbs.
PPG: 8.4 RPG: 8.7 BPG: 1.7
That's correct, there is yet another Plumlee brother in Durham. Plumlee was a dominating force in the opening game against the undersized UNC-Wilmington as he went for 23 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks. He followed that up with another solid 10 rebound, 5 block performance against Yale. This Plumlee very much reminds me of Kaleb Tarczewski, who against Oregon this year averaged 11 points and nearly nine rebounds.
Coach K/Scoring. It's impossible to mention a strength of the Blue Devils without mentioning head coach Mike Krzyewski. The hall of fame coach has won five championships with Duke and is the maestro of the USA men's basketball team. The matchup of coaching between Coach K and Dana Altman will be one of the best chess matches of the entire tournament.
On the court, the Blue Devils are dangerous on the offensive end. Averaging just short of 82 points per game, Duke ranks 17th in the country in points per game. Duke has four different players (five if you include injured Amile Jefferson) who average over ten points per game. The shooting for the Devils is on point too, as Allen, Ingram and Matt Jones each shoot over 40% from three.
Spotty defense and rebounding. One of the biggest issues with this Duke team is the inconsistent defense. This year, the Blue Devils give up just over 72 points per game which ranks 182nd in the country. In losses this year, the Blue Devils defense gave up five points more than the season average. In the tournament so far, the defense hasn't been overly sharp. The UNC-Wilmington Seahawks in the first round managed 85 points. In the second round they held Yale to 64 points, but the concern would be the 39 points allowed in the second half.
The rebounding battle will be something to keep an eye on Thursday. The numbers are nearly identical with Duke averaging 36.3 rebounds per game with Oregon trailing at 36.1 rebounds per game. Neither team is entirely consistent on the boards. Duke dominated the first round matchup on the glass grabbing 40 rebounds to control the paint. The Yale game was much different however, as the Bulldogs outrebounded 42-28.