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2018 NCAA tournament preview: No. 2 Duke

Duke Blue Devils: 26-7, 13-5 in the ACC

Head coach: Mike Krzyzewski (38th season)

Players to watch: Marvin Bagley III (21.1 PPG, 11.5 RPG); Gary Trent Jr. (14.3 PPG 41.5 3PT%); Grayson Allen (15.7 PPG, 4.5 APG) 

Season recap: Despite the departure of nearly 10 players from last year’s team, the Blue Devils entered this season yet again as the No. 1 team in the country—the first time Duke has ever been the preseason No. 1 in back-to-back years. The many holes left by All-ACC freshman Jayson Tatum, fifth-year senior Amile Jefferson and 3-point sharpshooter Luke Kennard were quickly plugged by a starting five that featured four freshmen and a senior captain that rolled through nonconference play, amassing 11 consecutive wins, including two against top-10 opponents. 

More impressive than the winning streak, however, was the resilience the team demonstrated in the face of adversity. Against then-No. 2 Michigan State, a first-half collision forced Marvin Bagley III to exit early. The Blue Devils rallied around Grayson Allen’s career-high 37 points, and Duke triumphed 88-81. Three times the team faced a second-half deficit in the PK80 Invitational in November, and on each occasion, those freshmen and Allen roared back.

Conference play brought its challenges. Two straight road defeats to Boston College and N.C. State exposed major issues with the team’s defense—Duke allowed at least 89 points for three consecutive ACC games. And for the first time all season, the Blue Devils no longer looked invincible. Compounding matters, the team announced Bagley would miss time with a knee injury suffered in Duke's first matchup with North Carolina. 

But the Blue Devils weathered the storm without the ACC's leading scorer, significantly upping their defensive intensity and winning six of their final seven games—four of which were without Bagley—to secure the conference's No. 2 seed. On the regular season's final night, Duke rallied from yet another double-digit deficit to topple the Tar Heels 74-64 before falling against the same North Carolina team in the ACC tournament semifinals 74-69 just six days later. 

How they make a run: The Blue Devils maintain their level of defensive intensity that helped them rack up wins down the stretch. Bagley and Wendell Carter Jr. continue to dominate the post, while the guards minimize turnovers and consistently knock down 3-point jumpers to add to the offensive firepower.

How they falter: The defensive woes that plagued Duke come back to bite it in March Madness. Although the Blue Devils have plenty of offense, their opponents penetrate Duke's 2-3 zone and the Blue Devils exit before the tournament's second weekend for a fourth time since 2012.


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