Mike Krzyzewski has to know better than anybody that winning a national championship is a rigorous process. In his 38 years at Duke, he has been to the Final Four 12 times, cut the nets down at the end of the Big Dance five times, and watched another team celebrate a title four times.
There are a lot of factors that go into making a deep tournament run. Sure, star power is critical, but so is depth. Winning a national title requires winning six games against various playing styles in three weeks.
That is why the mild knee sprain that forced freshman phenom Marvin Bagley III out of the Blue Devils’ lineup for the last three games will benefit Duke in the long run.
Krzyzewski admitted as much Sunday.
“That’s three wins without arguably as talented a kid as there is in the country out, and he’s coming along, so hopefully it’ll be soon,” Krzyzewski said according to The Duke Chronicle. “It has given opportunities for Marques [Bolden], Javin [DeLaurier] and Jack [White] that normally they wouldn’t have. For Javin to play 30 minutes in a game and start in late February, that’s invaluable experience as we go forward.”
DeLaurier has benefited the most from Bagley’s absence, raising his minutes per game from 11.25 to 24. With those additional minutes, he’s averaging 4.0 points and 6.7 rebounds.
Bolden has complimented Wendell Carter Jr. down low as the freshman has grown into a star of his own.
That increased depth coupled with a starting lineup that features five scorers averaging double figures — when Bagley returns — will make Duke a tough out once the tournament rolls around next month.
It also will help the Blue Devils to know they can play without their most talented player.
Duke’s two most recent victories came against teams that will be in the field of 68 come Selection Sunday. A 74-52 victory over Virginia Tech last Wednesday saw senior guard Grayson Allen score a game-high 25 points while freshman guard Gary Trent Jr. added 19. Allen tacked on 19 points in a 66-57 win over No. 11 Clemson on Sunday. Carter recorded a double double with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Over the last week and a half, we have learned a lot about Duke. And it has learned a lot about itself.
The Blue Devils were a great team before Bagley’s injury, but his short absence has made them even better. Now they may be the favorite to win it all.