1. Duke plays great man-to-man defense. That might not be obvious to the casual basketball observer If you want to win in college basketball you have to play defense… well; and man-to-man is the way to go. That's something Duke can do – man you up. Sure, they have the players at the all of the spots to do it – and Kyle Singler is a killer big guard – but the Duke players are interested in playing defense to go along with their offense. If Singler doesn't make that left-handed block late in the game Duke probably does not win. In man defense you have to fight over the top of screens and your big men have to show (or hedge) with the same sort of intensity that Blue Devil big man Brian Zoubek did seemingly all night. Not only that, but you have to hustle back into position, and the weak side help needs to shade properly to avoid getting beat on the roll part of the pick-and-roll. It's about hustle and the desire to do it. Duke did that (Butler did, too, for the record).
2. You can win the national title even if you are not playing well. This is not a great Duke team, and college basketball, in general, was down this season. This Duke team would not beat the North Carolina team from last year (obviously… virtually the same Duke kids took two losses from Carolina last season), but that's not the point. What drove Duke the entire season was the ability of its scorers to get off nightly. They had arguably the best trio in college basketball (Kentucky has an argument here, too) in terms of scoring, but they did not shoot well last night from three-point land. Duke is one of the best three-point shooting team in the country, but they were well below their season shooting percentage for the season last night. Gaurds Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith, two of Duke's big three, were horrible from downtown last night, but they still won. Duke scored 16 points below their season average and still won. Duke had four more turnovers than Butler still won the game. They shot below their season average from the free thrown line and still won the game. Plain and simple: they did not play well, and they still won.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game that he couldn't believe that his team won the national title… that makes two of us.
3. You can win the national title playing pretty much only your starting five. Duke, like many teams in the NCAAs, has a group they are comfortable with, and it is a small group. But the Blue Devils proved last night that you can, in fact, win the NCAAs by relying almost exclusively on your starting five. You might think Duke would have more faith in its bench, but if I were Krzyzewski I would not have taken out one of my big three – and someone would have lost an eye if I was forced to take Singler out. Duke's starting five played 183 of 200 total minutes of the game – and nine of those minutes were because Zoubek got into foul trouble. If he didn't get his fourth foul until later in the second half he might not have seen the bench, either.
To review: You have to play defense well; specifically man-to-man defense. Get the footwork down now. You can play poorly and win the national title game. Can you play poorly during the entire tournament? Probably not, but you can play poorly in the title game itself and still win. Get ready starting five because it is going to be your show. If Duke can win with pretty much no production in the title game from its bench, then so can Georgia.
Laugh if you'd like at the notion of Georgia making a run in the NCAAs next season… I'm not. Mark Fox is one player away from having his version of a big three. I'm not confusing Georgia's bench with Duke's, but Duke's didn't give production, either. If Georgia can loosely follow the Duke model for success in next seasons' NCAAs (yes, with 96 teams I am putting Georgia in) then they might be playing late in the tournament, too.