The Secret to Beating Duke in the Tournament, Revealed

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 29: Ahmed Hill #13 of the Virginia Tech Hokies misses a layup against the Duke Blue Devils late in the second half in the East Regional game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 29, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Finally, the plucky Blue Devils catch some repeated breaks. Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Duke Blue Devils are an intimidating bunch. Their starting lineup is chock-full of NBA talent, and head coach Mike Krzyzewski has five National Championships and more than one thousand Division I wins on his résumé. Nevertheless, the NCAA Tournament has shown that the overall No. 1 seed is more vulnerable than you might expect.

In the Round of 32, a confident UCF team matched Duke’s every move until the final whistle, but the Blue Devils snuck away with a 77-76 win. Virginia Tech was just as formidable during Friday’s Sweet Sixteen matchup, but it too was undone at the death. The Hokies’$2 75-73 loss was as close as the scoreline implies, and, like UCF, they provided a blueprint for how to take down Krzyzewski’s juggernaut.

Michigan State await Duke in the Elite Eight, and Spartans head coach Tom Izzo has a 1-11 career record against Krzyzewski. Michigan State is likely desperate to know the secret to beating the Blue Devils and, lucky for them, it’s actually rather simple: make a tip-in.

College players shouldn’t be expected to stop Duke freshman Zion Williamson, who is built like a bank vault and has a 45-inch vertical leap, but they should at least be able to convert a lay-in. UCF and Virginia Tech each had a shot—the former for the win and the latter to send their game to overtime—but neither could capitalize on the opportunity. According to my projections, Michigan State will find itself in a similar situation at the end of Sunday’s game, and not doing what the Knights or Hokies did is vital to its potential success.

There may be other keys to taking down Duke, like forcing Williamson to rely on outside shooting and limiting turnovers, but those require effort and energy throughout the entire game. Best to just focus on the last shot, one that will inevitably come right at the rim. It’s the “third time’s the charm” strategy. All Michigan State needs is for the the overall No. 1 seed with the greatest recruiting class in history to run out of luck. It’s bound to happen, right?