Death, taxes, and Duke University being the pillar of college basketball. For decades, or to be exact since the late 80s Duke has been the face of college basketball.
Through greatness, hatred, stardom, and championships the biggest blue blood of them all is led by legendary Coach K.
College Basketball junkies know it wasn’t smooth sailing for Duke before Mike Krzewski took the helm in 1980, prior to this they weren’t the prominent name or contender with a bunch of slightly above average seasons, and UCLA locking up the late 60s and mid-70s with their Hall of fame Bigs and the iconic leader John Wooden. After the first 3 seasons of abysmal records and no NCAA tournaments, fans and boosters wanted Coach K gone.
Fast forward 40 years, countless final four appearances, 5 NCAA Titles, top 3 in first-round picks, a plethora of NBA all-stars, and a few HOF. This is how Duke has become the face of College Basketball. But recently it seems as if the program has hit a brick wall. During these times of covid, it is significantly hard to have a season that goes well with no derailment.
With that being said many look at the team’s youth and inexperience as a constant growing pain that aided their downfalls.
In years past Duke has always had a pair or trio of players that have carried the team through deep waters. Just look at the 2015 title team three freshman Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, and Justise Winslow single-handedly carried the Program to its 5th title running over every team in their path.
Another being the 18-19 team headed by the diaper dandies, and future NBA stars Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish, and Rj Barrett who led the team to a 32-6 record, ACCT title, and Elite 8 bid. The main problem is this year’s team had none of this. There is no help, leadership, or breakout freshman talent that was going to carry them to the promised land.
This season has been nothing but trial and error. Duke started the season 2-2 in their first four games. Next, they went on a month covid pause due to teams not being able to have enough players. Right after the pause, they lost 5-star recruit Jalen Johnson to a foot injury.
All this happening in a short time span there was never room for this team to grow or develop chemistry. Barely building 2 game win streaks, and always trying to figure out who the go-to guy is. That with not putting consistent efforts on the court many came to the conclusion that the season was doomed from the jump.
Shortly after Johnson’s return, he left the team to focus on the 2021 NBA draft. Without him, they were playing like a whole different team mostly due to the fact that Matt Hurt was averaging 24 PPG, 5 RPG, and shooting at a 45% clip from deep during this run.
This team was starting to look watchable winning 4 straight games. The only problem is as quick as they build momentum they lose it, Duke went on to lose its final 3 regular-season games, and that seemed to be the nail in the coffin.
Even with a couple of wins in the ACCT, it was a long shot to make the big dance. The program had one last opportunity with a marquee matchup against FSU in the quarterfinals. Hour’s before tip-off an unknown bench player tested positive for Covid-19 sending Duke home and wiping out the little hope of this team making a run.
Looking towards next season everyone that clowned this program for their one bad hiccup over the course of the last 20 years will be miserable next year. Here’s why they have arguably the best freshman incoming in 6’10 SF/PF Paolo Banchero.
Not only this he will be joined by the #14 ranked player from the class of 2021, 6’7 SG/SF AJ Griffin. Adding to this monstrous duo, is the dynamic backcourt of DJ Steward and Jeremy Roach, with 7’0 shot-blocking machine Mark Williams all returning for their sophomore year.
With this gut-wrenching season in the back of their mind, it’s safe to say this will be one of the scariest teams in college basketball next year. These incoming elite players, aided by returning key pieces, and led by the HOF Coach Mike Krzyzewski are the reason Duke is on a crash course for their 6th NCAA title next season.