Duke Basketball: Are Blue Devils' Days as Title Contender Over?

Pete SchauerCorrespondent IApril 10, 2012

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 16:  (C) Austin Rivers #0 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts as he stands between Gabe Knutson #42 and B.J. Bailey #32 of the Lehigh Mountain Hawks in the second half during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum on March 16, 2012 in Greensboro, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Duke Blue Devils' early exit from the 2012 NCAA Tournament raises the question whether Duke's days as title contenders are numbered.

It was just two seasons ago that Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils were showered with confetti in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis after winning the 2010 NCAA Tournament, but since 2010, Duke hasn't reached the Elite Eight—something the storied university has done 18 times—and has seen two freshman point guards leave just as quickly as they came.

When you really think about it, going two consecutive seasons without reaching the Elite Eight isn't a big deal. Most teams can only dream about being one of eight teams left out of a field of 64—now 68—but Duke doesn't appear to be the dominant team it once was.

What Duke lacks are concrete leaders and pure scorers. Guys like J.J. Reddick, Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith are no more, and guards Kyrie Irving and Austin Rivers made pit stops at Duke only to enter the NBA draft after their freshman year.

Irving was clearly more NBA-ready than Rivers; despite playing only 11 games, he was a better scorer, he shot better and he sported a much better assist to turnover ratio than Rivers, and he's currently leading the Cleveland Cavaliers in scoring during his rookie season.

Rivers, on the other hand, is undeserving of an NBA draft pick, as many feel he should remain at Duke for another season under Coach K. The past two seasons have seen freshman in the leader role, whereas the 2010 championship squad was led by upperclassmen who possessed the necessary experience to hang another banner in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 20:  Kyrie Irving #1 of the Duke Blue Devils moves the ball while taking on the Michigan Wolverines during the third round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 20, 2011 in Charlotte, North
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Duke's roster will show a few experienced seniors next season—Mason Plumlee, Andre Dawkins, Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly—but the team just doesn't have the feel and the talent like it did back in '10 and other championship seasons.

With Rivers now gone, Duke has a void to fill at the guard position. Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon will see an increased role this upcoming season, but each lacks experience.

Highly touted recruit Shabazz Muhammad has been the topic of conversation among Duke fans. The addition of Muhammad would bring an end to Duke's three-point craze and a presence in the paint, writes B/R's Jimmy Kelley.

For now, something needs to be done if Duke wants to return to contending for a title year in and year out. It needs to find a guard who is going to stay in the backcourt longer than one season and a big man who can be coupled with Plumlee in his last season of eligibility.

Until they begin to look add title-contending pieces, the 2011-2012 Blue Devils will be remembered as a weak team ousted in the second round of the NCAA Tournament by a No. 15 seed.


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