Final Four Season in Review: Duke Blue Devils
DUKE BLUE DEVILS
RECORD: 33-4 (15-3 in Conference)
COACH: Mike Krzyzewski
2014-2015 SEASON: The Duke Blue Devils had a season that we have come to expect from one of the most storied programs in college basketball. Last offseason, the program secured the nation’s number one recruiting class, which included the number one overall recruit in Jahlil Okafor. They were led most of the year by a trio of freshmen: Okafor, Tyus Jones, and Justise Winslow. Additionally, senior Quinn Cook easily had the best season of his collegiate career. Junior forward Amile Jefferson and sophomore guard Matt Jones were also key in helping Duke to achieve signature wins over fellow Final Four participant, Wisconsin, and ACC regular conference champion, Virginia. Virginia entered that game ranked second in the nation and undefeated at 19-0. The unquestioned leader of the Blue Devils, however, remains their coach, Mike Krzyzewski. On January 15, 2015, Coach K became the first Division I coach to reach 1,000 wins. Shortly after this historic feat, junior guard Rasheed Sulaimon was dismissed from the team. Duke overcame this loss of a rotation player to still finish second to Virginia in the ACC and earn a number one seed in the NCAA tournament.
NCAA TOURNAMENT: Duke easily got past the first weekend of the tournament as the one seed in the South Region, dispatching Robert Morris 85-66 in their first game, then dismantling San Diego State 68-49 in their next. The sweet 16 matchup against Utah has proved to be their toughest test yet in the tourney. In their regional semifinal tilt, Utah’s game plan to double team Okafor on every touch almost worked. Duke squeaked by 63-57 on the strength of a great game by Winslow and timely late shots coming from Cook and Jones. Against Gonzaga in the regional final, ACC player of the year Okafor was held to single digits in points for the second straight game but Winslow again came up big and Duke was able to pull away, 66-52.
STANDOUT PLAYER: Justise Winslow has stepped up to take over for Duke as teams have been able to stifle Okafor’s production. Okafor, possibly the top pick in June’s NBA draft, has been held to 6 points and 9 points, respectively, in Duke’s last two contests. Meanwhile, Winslow has averaged 18.5 points in those games, including 21 points and 10 rebounds against Utah. The Blue Devils need this type of production from Winslow to continue as they face Tom Izzo and Michigan State.
OUTLOOK: Duke is favored to beat Michigan State, who arrived to Indianapolis as the 7th seed from the East Region. If they are able to get past the Spartans, one of the most anticipated games in recent college basketball history could take place if Kentucky takes care of Wisconsin in their final four matchup. Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns and Okafor are the projected top two picks in the upcoming NBA draft and scouts are hoping that they will face off for the championship. Duke would face a monumental challenge if they were to square off against Kentucky, as the Wildcats are undefeated and are favored to win the tournament.