The early non-conference schedule was marked by wins over Arizona State, UConn and St. John that were nice, but no great shake. It seemed more indicative that a loss at Wisconsin was mixed in. The trend continued. Duke blew out Gonzaga, but lost early ACC games at Georgia Tech & N.C. State. They stepped up and won a big game at Clemson in prime-time in front of ESPN's Gameday, then turned around and were buried at Georgetown. They showed their consistency from that point forward, winning eight straight. They showed what seemed to be their limitations when they fell at Maryland and into a tie for the ACC championship.
Coach K took his troops to Greensboro for the ACC Tournament. It looked like three days that had warning signs all over again. They struggled to get past Virginia and 12th-seeded Miami, and even the 65-61 championship win over Georgia Tech didn't look overwhelming. But Maryland, Florida State and Clemson all played themselves out before they could get a crack. It was indeed a foreshadowing of the NCAA Tournament to come.
Duke's played good basketball in this tournament, beating a talented #8 seed in Cal and then taking out Purdue and Baylor to win the regional. And they've watched every other #1 seed fall by the wayside, thus arriving in Indy as the favorite to win it all. As in recent years with the Blue Devils, the strength is the backcourt. This year it rises above simply being a strength and into the realm of excellence. Jon Scheyer was one of the best players in the ACC and can both score and distribute from the point. Nolan Smith can handle the ball and score at the two-guard spot. Go to the frontcourt and Kyle Singler can score in the post and step outside and drain the trey. But doing these things didn't make this club all that different from the Duke teams of 2005-09, which were good teams, but not Final Four material. It was the long-awaited emergence of big Brian Zoubek down low. The seven-footer finally stepped up and became a rebounding force, going for double-digits on the glass night-in and night-out. That was the key development Coach K needed to make his 11th Final Four.
That concludes our run through Saturday's participants. Tomorrow morning I'll make my picks for these games, something you will no doubt await breathlessly (note sarcasm). The Baseball Notebook made its picks on the AL Central earlier today.