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March Madness 2017: Duke a true threat?

The Duke Blue Devils are an institution. Much in the way the UCLA Bruins meant winning back in the 1960s and 70s under John Wooden, the team that resides at Cameron Indoor Stadium means that for the latest generation of college basketball fans.

However, things have not gone smoothly for the Blue Devils this season. Duke is 18-5 but only 6-4 in ACC play, putting them squarely in the 68-team March Madness field, but nowhere near the top line it is accustomed to. Part of the reason has been the shuffling at head coach, with Mike Krzyzewski forced off the bench because of back surgery. In his stead came Jeff Capel, an assistant who led the team to a 4-3 mark during Krzyzewski’s absence.

With Coach K now back in the proverbial saddle, it is time for the Blue Devils to take off. Duke currently sits sixth in the ACC standings, and while a spot in the NCAA Tournament is all but sewn up, getting the right mojo is paramount. Throughout the year, Due has had an uneven resume, even with wins against the Florida Gators and Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

There have been some rough losses, with defeats against the unranked Virginia Tech Hokies and North Carolina State Wolfpack. Those are the sort of blemishes were are used to seeing other teams have, but not Duke. With Capel back in his normal role and the team at full strength, what should we expect?

It also has to be said that guard Grayson Allen has been more bad than good to this juncture. Allen was the captain of the team to begin the year, only to be stripped of that honor and suspended for continuing to trip and stomp on opponents like a child. Allen was supposed to be the leader of a team thought by many to be a Final Four challenger. Instead, he has been brutal, and the team has underperformed.

All that said, we are still more than a month away from crunch time. Duke has enough skill to make a major run in March, even with Allen continuing to be a headcase. Luke Kennard is one of the best guards in the country, averaging a shade under 20 points per game as a sophomore. Jayson Tatum has also continued to improve with every game as a freshman, scoring more than 15 points per night. Factor in the leadership of an Amile Jefferson, and the Blue Devils pose a threat to any team.

On Thursday, Duke will take on the North Carolina Tar Heels, who currently lead the ACC with a 21-4 overall record and 9-2 mark in conference. With a win at home, the Blue Devils will start looking far more dangerous.

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