DURHAM, N.C. – Have you heard? The Duke Basketball team is not as good as they use to be and there is trouble in paradise. Yeah, right. When the Blue Devils fell to Florida State in the ACC Tournament, the critics started to come out in droves. They had been around all season but Duke kept them at bay with a solid regular season where they defeated the likes of their highly talented rival North Carolina, Kansas and a bevy of other good basketball teams.
It’s true that Duke struggled a bit down the stretch as evidenced by their upset loss to Lehigh in one of the programs more embarrassing losses. But the reason that loss was so unbearable to many is that the Blue Devils rarely lose to an upstart team, so this was shocking to many. But if you take a more careful look, you quickly realize that fate caught up with Duke and the fan base, spoiled as it is and media types seemed to pay no mind the fact that this has happened to every program out there and that on occasion the Basketball Gods’ can be cruel.
The media, many who had been watering at the mouth for Duke to fail took full advantage and the articles and usual nay sayers were out in droves. In today’s instant gratification society you are only as good as your last game. Many overlooked the overall success Krzyzewski had with a team that he admitted had an unusual make up and one that was different from Duke teams past.
Of course, the increasingly spoiled fan base started to do a great job of imitating Chicken Little on various message boards and neither they or the media mentioned that maybe it was the Blue Devils turn to fall short of an ACC Tournament Championship for a rare change. I mean the Blue Devils have only won 10 out of the last 14 trophies which makes for a crowded showcase that any other program would die to have.
A few weeks passed and Duke missed on two top prospects in Tony Parker and Shabazz Muhammad, both of who went to UCLA and then there was the transfer of Michael Gbinije. And that prolonged the Duke is doomed scenario where many fans acted like a successful program on all fronts could do no right.
Transfers happen and Gbinije headed to Syracuse to finish his college career. When Krzyzewski mentioned that his team was a bit different from other teams he’d coached, one of the things he was alluding to without mention is the lack of vocal leadership on the team and the nickname for Gbinije, “Silent G.” also applied to his demeanor both on and off the court which is quiet. Folks, if you are going to get burn at Duke you have to talk, call out picks, switches and the kind. Still, many fans were convinced it was some sort of conspiracy and they questioned a decision of a Hall of Fame Coach that only broke the all time NCAA wins mark about a players playing time.
As for the losses in recruiting, let’s just say Adidas played a big role with Muhammad and Parker. Many complained that Krzyzewski went after the wrong big men targets but the truth is there were not many that would have fit Duke on and off the court. Duke cannot magically make kids grades better so he can get into school and they cannot compete with any under the table dealings in the world of recruiting in that they do it the right way, something fans and detractors alike should be proud of in the current climate of the game.
Duke stayed in the top ten all year long and were dropped way below where they really should have been in the final poll where it is what have you done for me lately mentality when voting. One of my trusted allies thinks Duke will not start this season in the top ten in that the projections have them anywhere but their accustomed place.
But I am betting that the national types will start to see what I see and have them there by the time the real polls come out. And if they do fall short of a top 10 start, it will not be long before they are there to stay if they simply play Duke Basketball.
The Blue Devils also had to deal with the Andre Dawkins situation where he may or may not take a year off as well. Dawkins had a horrible time breaking out of a funk down the stretch and that surely did not help and what about the injury to Ryan Kelly? Is there anybody that does not realize Duke had to change the concept of their team with the issues at hand on the fly?
The first way too early pre season top 25 polls started to come out a month ago and I snickered at seeing Duke ranked behind a neighboring rival. Actually they were ranked behind both of them. While Duke lost Austin Rivers who left Duke with the amazing memory of his three-point buzzer beating dagger at North Carolina and Miles Plumlee, they gain incoming freshman Rasheed Sulaimon, the newly acquired Amile Jefferson and redshirt freshman Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee.
In short, they gain more than they lost and return a huge portion of their team. That folks, will translate into on the court success and I assure you I feel that way without a pair of royal blue glasses on.
You know Coach Krzyzewski has to in a sense love where his team is currently projected for they are not annointed the favorites. While Duke will continue to take every teams best shot, something that goes overlooked, let’s see how others not use to the limelight take on the favorites role.
And tell me, how many teams will have experienced senior leadership that Mason Plumlee. Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry bring to the table, two of the guys playing on a national championship team. If Dawkins returns, they will have another senior who wears a national championship ring.
I suppose you could point to the aforementioned Gbinije as a loss as well but the reality is he played very little so how much of a loss is he for the coming season? He will be a very good player just not at Duke it’s time to move on without overblown speculation and not live in the world of what if.
With the signing of Jefferson, the Blue Devils have a lot of depth up front and the most experienced front court in the conference. And the group of guards includes Curry, Sulaimon, Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton. How many teams backcourts in the entire nation are that much better that this group?
Anybody who thinks the Blue Devils are going to take a step back will be sorely mistaken and you can bet this coming season will be business as usual for the Dukies in short order. Folks, there simply are not a lot of better teams than Duke or ones they cannot compete with, so for now, the naysayers will have to wait a bit longer before you bury the program which gobbles wins like a kid with a sugar fixation does his box of Skittles.
Rank them where you will, overstate their supposed failures on the recruiting trail too. But realize that Duke always has and always will right the ship under the watchful eye of Mike Krzyzewski.
That said, go and enjoy your summer and watch Krzyzsewski as he leads Team USA on a quest for Gold. The program is in good shape which is the same as it ever was.
Here is a look at next seasons team with player by player capsules -
Mason Plumlee - The most important recruit in the off season was Mason Plumlee and talking him into coming back to Duke. Plumlee is a physically gifted and mature player that has gone up against a slew of NBA 1st round picks over his career and held his own. He will be All ACC going into the season and on some All American teams as well. He is the most experienced big man in the league and could push for most valuable player honors in the league..
Ryan Kelly - Another senior who is a big that can draw other teams frontcourt out of the lane with his ability to knock down the three point shot. Kelly is a hard worker that will improve even more this summer. He will attend the Amare Stoudemire Big Man’s Camp with the aforementioned Plumlee. Also, like Mason, he has been through the wars and brings much overlooked experience to the table as a senior and has been on a national championship team.
Seth Curry - Sure, Curry struggled down the stretch with his shooting but you cannot keep a shooter down but so long. Curry will work on his strength in the off season and he is a seasoned player that will provide mental toughness with his experience when the going gets tough this coming year.
Tyler Thornton - While Tyler is not officially a team captain, the junior is as big a leader as anybody on the team. Kryzyzewski has said he calms the team when need be and Thornton also plays within his skills set. His early season heroics garnered Duke some key wins last season.
Josh Hairston – The junior big man will get a chance to play and he’s a spirited player that gets the home crowd going at every Duke home game. With Thornton, he adds character to the team concept. He’s now an upper classmen and many players past have turned in on in their final seasons at Duke.
Andre Dawkins - Nobody knows for sure if Dawkins will play next season at this time but if he does, he can alone catch fire with his three point shot and that same shot won games for Duke or put them out of reach a season ago. Dawkins is athletic and can break out when he gets his plans settled.
Quinn Cook - Cook will battle for the starting point guard spot and another year of maturity will most certainly help. Cook is one of the better ball distributors on the team and has the ability to score the ball. He needs to work on his defensive footwork in the off season and if he improves there he may well end up running the team.
Marshall Plumlee - At close to 7 feet, the youngest Plumlee adds depth backing up his brother in his senior season. I expect Mason to teach him a thing or two. His better years are likely a year or two away but the coaches love his attitude and motor. Plumlee is also a bit of a team comic who provides laughs and that in itself can be a plus.
Alex Murphy - With a year of the Duke system under his belt and physical maturity, a lot is expected of Murphy, a staff favorite. Murphy brings a little bit of everything with his game and he’s been itching to show what he’s got. A solid player in every aspect, Murphy may well start.
Rasheed Sulaimon - Great character and will. Sulaimon will add a lot to the Duke defense as their best pressure defender in the backcourt He can also break you down on the dribble and knock down the three point shot. He will east the loss of Austin Rivers.
Amile Jeffferson - With a 7 foot wingspan, Jefferson will find a role on the team from year one. With a deep team up front there will be no pressure on him to contribute right away. Jefferson has smooth movement on the floor and has the ability to knock down those garbage buckets so many players find a way to miss these days. A fantastic late addition to the team.