Why Duke is vulnerable
Even as they stay high in the polls, Blue Devils' contender status is slipping
It may seem odd to voice concerns about a team that's ranked No. 1 in the nation in one poll, and a lowly No. 2 in the other. And, to be sure, a lot of observers (and not merely pollsters) seem unconcerned about the Duke Blue Devils at the moment, even as Ryan Kelly continues to sit with an injured foot.
The Blue Devils have helped this mindset along, certainly, by winning their past five games (though that last one, a 62-61 victory at Boston College, was certainly a close shave). At 21-2 overall and boasting lofty ratings even in those perennially skeptical computer ranking systems (currently No. 2 in the BPI, and No. 6 at KenPom), this certainly looks like your standard-issue Duke team. And sure enough, after an initial bout of wobbly play in Kelly's absence, Mike Krzyzewski's team appears to have pulled itself together in its new configuration. I have even heard the term "blessing in disguise" applied to Kelly's injury.
Sorry, but I'm not buying it. I guarantee you Krzyzewski would gladly do without this particular "blessing," because his team's performance has changed significantly without Kelly, and not entirely for the better.
Here's why I'm unconvinced by a Duke team (which plays host to rival North Carolina on Wednesday night -- 9 p.m. ET, ESPN) that right now is being endorsed by pollsters and computers alike:
The Blue Devils owe their high rankings in part to good timing
And I mean "good timing" in both the big picture and the small scale. In the big picture, this is not the strongest ACC we've seen in recent years. The league does rate out as slightly better than it was last season, but both seasons represent a significant dip in quality from what we were accustomed to seeing from the ACC up until about 2011. And while Miami is clearly a legitimate Final Four threat (and Virginia is likely being underrated), the rest of the league is not lacking for mediocre teams.
To read John Gasaway's full take on how Duke has struggled on defense since Ryan Kelly's injury, you must be an ESPN Insider.
We see that you are not an ESPN Insider. Upgrade today and gain access to our exclusive coverage.
MORE MEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL HEADLINES
- NCAA: No "Sic 'Em Bears" jerseys for Baylor
- Wake wins 1st ACC tourney game since '07
- Selection committee to monitor Embiid injury
- Mount St. Mary's (16-16) clinches NCAA bid
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
Insider CBB content
• Greenberg/Telep: Kansas Jayhawks
• Greenberg/Finkelstein: Marquette
• Gasaway/Rankin: Indiana Hoosiers
• Gasaway/Rankin: Michigan Wolverines
• Gasaway/Rankin: Ohio State Buckeyes
• Greenberg/Finkelstein: Memphis Tigers
• Gasaway/Rankin: Florida Gators
• Greenberg/Telep: Kentucky Wildcats
• Gasaway/Finkelstein: Louisville Cardinals
• Gasaway/Finkelstein: Syracuse Orange
• Greenberg/Biancardi: NC State Wolfpack
• Biancardi/Gasaway: Duke Blue Devils
• Biancardi/Gasaway: North Carolina Tar Heels
• Biancardi/Gasaway: Arizona Wildcats
• Greenberg/Telep: UCLA Bruins
• Gasaway: Breakout second-year coaches
• Lunardi: Could Louisville repeat as champs?
• Greenberg: UVA tops list of surprise teams
• Fraschilla: How returning stars can improve
• Gasaway: Top title challengers to Kentucky
• Lunardi: Who will earn No. 1 seeds in 2014?
• Telep: Latest on No. 13 junior Theo Pinson
• Rankin: What Wiggins means for Kansas
• Biancardi: KU to prep Wiggins for NBA success
• Telep: Updated look at top recruits
• Roundtable: Most impressive on AAU circuit?
• Ford: NBA draft lottery preview
• Ford: Winners from the NBA draft combine
• Fraschilla: Burke the draft's top point guard?
• Ford: Measurements concern some GMs
• Ford: Why Wiggins would go No. 1 in 2013
Jay Bilas Blog
Jay's take on latest from around the nation
Analysis from Fraschilla, Greenberg and Lunardi
Get news and rumblings before anyone
Hollinger's College PER
College basketball's top players
Get wagering advice for every game