Duke and coach Mike Krzyzewski were a massive failure this year. There is no way around it, the Hall of Fame coach and his absurdly talented team came nowhere close to living up to their potential. An uneven, wildly disappointing season came to an end in a loss to a decidedly average South Carolina team in the Round of 32 Sunday night.
Duke opened the season ranked No. 1 in both polls, garnering 85 of a possible 97 total first-place votes in both polls combined. Clearly everyone thought the Blue Devils were going to be dominant. And why not? They returned preseason All-American Grayson Allen, sophomore sharp-shooter Luke Kennard, a senior big man in Amile Jefferson and a senior guard in Matt Jones. Oh, and they had four five-star recruits, who all ranked in the top 18 nationally. Duke should have been a Final Four team at the very least. Instead, they lost nine games and couldn’t escape the tournament’s first weekend.
In the season’s final game, the Blue Devils surrendered 88 points to a South Carolina team that ranked 124th in offensive efficiency. That’s laughably bad. Duke also allowed the Gamecocks to put up a ridiculous 65 points in the second half alone. That’s just plain embarrassing, but shouldn’t have shocked anyone, given how this season has gone.
Duke opened the year 12-1, with their only loss coming to a really good Kansas team. Then Allen tripped another player and was suspended for the team’s New Years Eve loss to Virginia Tech. He was allowed back after one game and things were up and down the rest of the way.
Duke lost three of four two separate times during the ACC season. Then the Blue Devils somehow got it together, winning four in a row to take the ACC Tournament title and get into the conversation for a No. 1 seed. Clearly they didn’t deserve a top seed and showed it on Sunday night.
The Blue Devils have now exited the tournament before the Sweet 16 five times in the last 11 seasons, and have reached the Elite Eight just three times in the past 13. Given the insane wealth of talent Coach K has had at his disposal, those results are disappointing.
The Blue Devils do have two national titles in the last eight years, so it’s understandable if Duke fans aren’t too upset. But still, this year’s team had a ridiculous level of potential and finished with nine losses and couldn’t even reach the Sweet 16.
I hang a lot of this on Coach K. Clearly the Grayson Allen issue was a major distraction for the team. After he was caught for a third trip, Allen should have faced a long suspension. Instead, Krzyzewski sat Allen for all of one game, and the world discussed how ridiculous that decision was. It impacted Allen as well, as he averaged just 14.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game this season, numbers down from 21.6 and 4.6 last year. His field goal percentage (36.8) was atrocious and way down from last year (46.6), as was his 3-point percentage (36.8 this year, 41.7 last year).
Duke did deal with injuries. Allen battled an ankle injury late in the year, while freshman Jayson Tatum missed time with a foot issue. Meanwhile, Harry Giles never really got on track after undergoing preseason knee surgery. But good teams battle through and find ways to win games. This was a group of talented players, not a good team.
Tatum will be a top 10 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, but there’s an outside shot some of the other guys come back. That said, Giles and Luke Kennard could both jump and be taken in the first round, while it might be uncomfortable for Allen to return to college after all the drama.
Yes, Duke will reload next season with incoming studs like Wendell Carter and Gary Trent Jr., but this season will always look like a missed opportunity.
It’s hard to criticize the winningest coach in Division I history, but Mike Krzyzewski failed this season. His players never came close to living up to their potential and that falls squarely on his shoulders.