If the Blue Devils' 2007 NCAA performance didn't convince people that Duke needed a change at the head coaching position, its 2008 performance had to. Duke looked sluggish and inconsistent while eking out a 71-70 victory against 15th-seeded Belmont in the first round. And just moments ago, the Blue Devils were completely overmatched against a more physical, more prepared, and yes, better coached West Virginia team.
It has been since 2004 since Duke has made it out of the sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament. Yes, Duke, the perennial powerhouse in college basketball, has not even won more than two games in the postseason in its past four tournament appearances.
In 2005, the Blue Devils fell in the Sweet 16 to the overachieving Michigan State Spartans, who would go on to reach the Final Four.
In 2006, Duke would again reach the Sweet 16, but the LSU Tigers scratched and clawed its way to a very defensive victory.
Eric Maynor of Virginia Commonwealth ended Duke's title run before it began in 2007, hitting a game-winning jumper to propel VCU over Duke in the first round. And now for the second straight year, Duke has failed to advance past the opening weekend.
But it isn't simply the on-the-court play of Duke that has been so disappointing over the past few seasons. More than that, the mystique is gone. Teams are no longer awed when walking into Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham. Underdogs don't believe to be overmatched by arguably the most historic team in college basketball history.
In seasons past, Coach K and his team would have a mental edge over its opponents, and you knew that no matter how big a lead you had, it was never safe against Duke. In 2001, Maryland led Duke by ten points with under a minute to go, and Duke was able to rally back for the victory.
Players like Jason Williams, Shane Battier, and Carlos Boozer exuded mental toughness and the desire to do whatever it took for a victory. That same season, the Blue Devils captured the NCAA title.
The name on the uniform used to intimidate; now it is almost pedestrian. This season, the Clemson Tigers defeated Duke in the ACC tournament simply by outworking the Blue Devils. Teams previously coached by Mike Krzyzewski would never let themselves get out-worked or out-hustled. But these aren't your father's Blue Devils. Skill-wise, Duke was the far superior team, but Clemson still found a way to get the job done.
Duke teams as of late have become soft. Instead of having players committed to rebounding, hustle, and tenacity, Duke's recent rosters have been comprised of pretty boy players who shoot threes and shy away from contact. Aside from Demarcus Nelson and Gerald Henderson, there was no one on this year's Duke team that consistently attacked the rim. If Krzyzewski wants to stay in Durham, he has to do a better job on the recruiting end. It cannot possibly be that difficult to recruit to Duke, and Coach K has to take advantage of this.
But I feel Coach K's time is up. He's done an incredible job coaching Duke in the past 28 seasons, and has turned several great college players into professionals. In addition, he now coaches the US Olympic team and did an admirable job in the FIBA Championships this past summer.
Unfortunately for Krzyzewski, the message is no longer getting through to his collegiate team. Four straight seasons without getting past the Sweet 16 is unacceptable for a national "powerhouse." Maybe Duke should look outside for its next coach, or possibly promote someone from within like Steve Wojciechowski, who can relate to the young guys, or Johny Dawkins, the primary assistant.
It's been a great run for Coach K at Duke, but it is time for him to go.
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