How long will Duke be playing this March? It’s impossible to say for sure, but let’s look at the best data available.
Ken Pomeroy is the best basketball statistician in the business, and his rankings are a must-read before filling out any bracket. His data goes back to 2003, but a team’s postseason play can have a large impact on its final ranking for any given year.
Thankfully, colleague Joe Giglio has Pomeroy’s pre-NCAA Tournament data for an upcoming story he’s working on, so it’s possible to look at where the Blue Devils stood before the past 11 NCAA tournaments. And we obviously know how each of those years ended.
The chart is here. Take a second to look it over…
Ok, then. A few things jump out immediately:
***The 2004 and 2010 numbers stand out—and so do the postseason results.
In both years, the Blue Devils sported elite offensive and defensive units—as in, top six nationally.
On two other occasions, Duke had both its offense and defense ranked in the top 10—2005 and 2008. Neither of those teams advanced past the Sweet 16, suggesting that the difference between very good and elite can be razor thin. But there is a distinct difference in the results.
***Duke is in uncharted territory in terms of defensive struggles
The ACC tournament, which concluded with a loss to Virginia that featured the Cavaliers scoring on 16 of their final 18 possessions, was essentially a torpedo for the Blue Devils’ adjusted defensive efficiency ranking, sending it into the triple digits.
On March 14, before playing Clemson, Duke’s adjusted defensive efficiency—a measure of how many points Duke would give up per 100 possessions against an average offense—was 75.
On March 15, before playing N.C. State, it was 87.
On March 16, before playing Virginia, it was 97.
Today, March 17, it is 101.
Of the 68 teams in the field this year, only 20 have lower-ranked defenses than Duke. And only three of those are NOT double digit seeds (but one is potential Sweet 16 opponent Michigan, whose defense is ranked two spots below Duke at 104).
In what should make for interesting television, two of Duke’s first three potential opponents (Mercer and Iowa) have lower-ranked defensive units. This is good for Duke, as the Blue Devils will be able to play to their strength (offense). Get ready for some high-scoring affairs.
I’m having a hard time figuring out why, exactly, Duke has struggled so much on the defensive end. So is the coaching staff, and the best theory they’ve come up with is that this group’s inexperience has led to the up-and-down performances.
It also hasn’t helped that Duke’s backcourt—which features a redshirt senior (Andre Dawkins), senior (Tyler Thornton), junior (Quinn Cook) and sophomore (Rasheed Sulaimon), primarily—has been especially inconsistent, to the point where the Blue Devils have gone point-guard-by-committee.
And the defense is getting worse, not better— five of Duke’s 10 worst defensive games have come in March. Keep in mind that the Blue Devils have played five games in March.
But you have to dance with the one that brought you, and this Duke team has one of the best offenses in the country and a below-average defense by the field’s standards. Let the games begin.