ESPN.com columnist Pat Forde's weekly "Forde Minutes" came out today, and the college sports expert was rather down on Duke, even after the Blue Devils' impressive road victory over Clemson last Saturday. Forde listed the 10 teams he thinks have a legitimate shot at the national title, and as expected, the list included Kentucky, Kansas and Texas, but also surprisingly included BYU. However, more shocking was Forde's exclusion of Duke from that list, a choice he took pains to justify:
Duke (12). Why the Blue Devils can't win it: We've seen this movie before. Duke blazes impressively out of the gates, is confronted by its limitations (size, depth or athleticism) in the latter third of the regular season, then hits the wall in March. The Devils haven't won more than two games in an NCAA tournament since 2004, despite having No. 1 seeds twice and No. 2 seeds twice as well.
This is yet another good Duke team, with yet another set of apparent flaws. The big men (the young Plumlee brothers, Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek) are still nothing special. The leading men,Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler, are still overworked. (Scheyer hasn't played fewer than 36 minutes in a game since December, and Singler has gone the full 40 in each of Duke's last two games.)
The Minutes will believe Duke might have a chance to win it all when it sees the Blue Devils actually advance past the Sweet 16 for the first time since Chris Duhon was in uniform.
The rather harsh critique might not sit well with many Blue Devil fans, many of whom see this year's team as different as those in the past thanks to the emergence of the Plumlees as both a defensive force in the paint and also as somewhat-legitimate scoring threats. Plus, Forde rather conspicuously ignores Nolan Smith, who is having a breakout season thus far.
What say you, readers? Is Duke still a Final Four contender, or does Forde's analysis dissuade your confidence?