Every week, the Blue Zone will make a take on Duke basketball—whether that take may be hot, cold or lukewarm. This week's take is in from Likhitha Butchireddygari:
I've been a non-believer for most of the season.
Each win, I took with a grain of salt and each loss, I attributed to larger structural issues of a young team. In fact, I had Duke losing in the Sweet 16 against Michigan State in my bracket. But, now, after the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, I am very confident that the Blue Devils will win the national championship.
After being placed in one of the toughest regions, Duke's road to San Antonio seems to be clearer than ever.
Some teams that could have beaten the Blue Devils' have imploded in dramatic fashion. Michigan State's loss to Syracuse took out one of the Blue Devils' most competitive opponents in the Midwest region. UMBC's Cinderella win took out of one of the strongest contenders for the title, Virginia, which was the only team to win at Cameron Indoor Stadium this year.
No. 2 Cincinnati's, No. 3 Tennessee's and No. 4 Arizona's losses in the same region put the Blue Devils closer to victory. Second-seeded North Carolina's unexpected loss to Texas A&M also increase Duke's chances.
Then, there are the teams that would give Duke a run for its money had their tournament performance not been so poor. In the midwest, Kansas barely squeaked past No. 8 seed Seton Hall. In the South, Kentucky made zero 3-pointers against Davidson, only beating the No. 12 seed by five points. In the East, Purdue's loss of its powerful center Issac Haas has left the team struggling—only beating No. 10 Butler by three.
In the West, Gonzaga blew its 15-point lead against Ohio State in the middle of the second half, winning the game in the final minutes with six points. Michigan has been an absolute mess since the start of the tournament. After a lackluster performance against No. 14 Montana, Michigan only won against No. 6 Houston on a buzzer-beater after playing with a 35.6 field goal percentage. The team has also had significant foul trouble—its best player, Mo Wagner, had four fouls in both games and two other players fouled out against Houston.
Compared to these teams, Duke has had a very strong performance in the first two rounds. The Blue Devils' once-absent offense has flourished with Trevon Duval on top of his game, while their defense has continued to be suffocating. Rhode Island was a good test for Duval, as it was one of the most opportunistic defenses in the country, but failed to get Duval and Duke's offense out of sync by forcing takeaways.
The Blue Devils are arguably playing the most complete basketball they have played all season.
Now, this isn't all to say that Duke will have an easy time winning the national championship. There are still very clear barriers in its path in Villanova, which cruised past its first two opponents, and Kansas, but it's hard to see a victor coming out of the left side of the bracket.
But right now, the Blue Devils are the best bet in the country to do it.
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Class of 2019
Local and national news department head 2016-17
Born in Hyderabad, India, Likhitha Butchireddygari moved to Baltimore at a young age. She is pursuing a Program II major entitled "Digital Democracy and Data" about the future of the American democracy.