After the Blue Devils claimed their 22nd ACC conference tournament title Saturday night against Virginia, the Blue Zone takes a look back at the last four times Duke lifted the trophy:
2019: Familiar freshmen
In many ways, the 2019 squad parallels the current Blue Devil roster. Similar to this year’s championship squad, the 2019 Duke team often featured four freshmen in its starting lineup. Zion Williamson, Tre Jones, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish — all of whom now play in the NBA — spearheaded a juggernaut that finished the season 32-6 and No. 1 in the AP poll. In their path to the conference title, the Blue Devils took down Syracuse, North Carolina and Florida State. Just as in this year’s tournament — where freshman Kyle Filipowski dominated the competition en route to earning MVP honors — Duke leaned heavily on Williamson, who averaged 27 points per game in the tournament. The Blue Devils’ season-long success led to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, where they advanced to the Elite Eight before falling to No. 2-seed Michigan State by just one point. In that 68-67 loss, Duke turned the ball over 17 times. A similar problem plagues this year’s team, and if it hopes to find similar success to the 2019 Blue Devils, the new champions will need to take care of the ball moving forward.
2017: Early exit
The 2017 Duke roster included household names such as Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, Jayson Tatum and current assistant coach Amile Jefferson. Kennard led the team in scoring that season at 19.5 points per game, but the team had five players average in double figures. Their high-powered offense was the reason the Blue Devils overwhelmed Clemson, Louisville, North Carolina and Notre Dame in the ACC tournament, but it was not enough to get past the first weekend in the NCAA tournament. Playing as the No. 2 seed in the East region, Duke trounced No. 15-seed Troy but fell to Cinderella No. 7-seed South Carolina 88-81, who eventually made a run to the Final Four. The Gamecocks beat the Blue Devils thanks to a 65-point second half in which they shot 71.4% from the field. Neither Duke nor Virginia scored 65 points in the entire game Saturday, and this year, defense has been an area of strength for the team. However, if they want to avoid an upset like in 2017, the Blue Devils will need to continue to control the pace of the game and stifle opponents’ runs.
2011: Failed repeat
One year removed from Duke’s fourth NCAA championship, the 2011 squad that included Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, Seth Curry and Kyrie Irving seemed primed to repeat. The Blue Devils won every game in the ACC tournament by double digits, including a 75-58 demolition of North Carolina in the championship game. Duke never fell below No. 5 in the AP poll all season, and with a team that boasted eight future NBA players and had earned a No. 1 seed in the West, a deep NCAA tournament run seemed like a forgone conclusion. However, in their Sweet 16 matchup against No. 5-seed Arizona, the Blue Devils surrendered a 55-point second half, ultimately falling 93-77. The 2011 Duke squad proved that no amount of talent is enough to guarantee anything in March.
While each of the aforementioned teams was successful, none of them reached the elusive goal that is a national championship. In order to find a Duke team that won both an ACC tournament and a NCAA tournament title in the same season, you have to go back one more year to 2010. The captain of that team: Jon Scheyer. The point guard, now turned head coach, led the team in scoring and helped propel Duke to a 35-5 record and its fourth national championship in school history. In its ACC tournament run, it was Singler who took home MVP honors, scoring double digits in all three games against Virginia, Miami and Georgia Tech. However, in crunch time of the conference championship game, Scheyer hit the pivotal three with about 20 seconds left to seal the win for the Blue Devils. The team earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, where it won four of its six games by double digits. In the championship game against Butler, Duke survived a half-court heave by Gordon Hayward at the buzzer to win 61-59. If Scheyer hopes to join elite company in winning a national title as both a player and coach, he will have to make a run even more difficult than the one he made as a captain. While the 2010 squad was a No. 1 seed, this year’s team, a No. 5 seed, will likely be an underdog in games past the second round. However, the Blue Devils’ head coach knows what it takes to win on the biggest stage; he has been here before.
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Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.