I saw it coming, ever since the Sweet 16 two years ago.
Unable to shoot, unable to corral key rebounds, a highly touted Duke team featuring seniors in JJ Redick and Shelden Williams lost to LSU. The Blue Devils shot just 27.7 percent from the floor and just 5-of-26 three-pointers (19.7 percent.)
Last year’s debacle against Virginia Freaking Commonwealth also doesn’t come as surprising. Relegated to a sixth seed, plagued by inconsistency all season, Duke again could not hit from the outside (3-of-11), turned the ball over 17 times, and missed 12 free throws in the first round exit.
And after eking out a first round win over Belmont this season, Duke was undone – again – by a porous offensive attack. At one point missing 15 straight three-pointers, the Blue Devils made just 5-of-22 from beyond the arc and were outrebounded 47-27. Duke scored just 12 points in the first 14:30 of the second half, missing 15 of their first 19 shots from the field to watch West Virginia wipe out what was an eight-point deficit in the opening minutes of the half.
Those numbers tell me what I’d been thinking all year – Duke just hasn’t been that good of a team, for a few years running now.
DeMarcus Nelson is the lone significant senior since Redick and Williams graduated, and he made just 3-of-12 shots in the two tourney games this week. Greg Paulus forced a ton of deep threes. Kyle Singler was invisible, even before he sat with foul problems, in the loss.
With the exception of Jon Scheyer and Gerald Henderson - who were 8-of-14 from the floor, made 16-of-19 free throws and combined for 33 points - no one on Duke played a good game. David McClure did a good job defensively on Joe Alexander but is as big a liability on offense as Ben Wallace is for the Cavs.
I knew this Duke team was vulnerable all season. I was shocked as they climbed the rankings all season, into the top-five, up to number two at one point. Losing to Wake Forest seemed to take something out of them, as the Blue Devils went just 6-5 in their final 11 games, and perhaps dispelling the myth that a late-season loss is a good wake-up call for a team.
The biggest problem for Duke, and Mike Krzyzewski, is the lack of a reliable big man. I think Coach K has been looking for the next Christian Laettner in recruiting guys like Josh McRoberts and Singler – both athletic fours who can shoot and handle the ball – but neither made anyone in Durham forget about Laettner.
According to rivals.com and scout.com, there’s no help coming for the Duke frontline next year, either. The only two players who have signed letters of intent are a 6-4 shooting guard and a 6-7, 235-pound forward, though both of whom are highly touted. The Blue Devils are in the running for a 7-2 center, but will he be any better than Brian Zoubek???
(Zoubek, by the way, might be the most disappointing player in recent memory for me as a Duke fan, and that includes the Shavlik Randolph era. He’s 7-1 but can’t do anything on the court. I have a better chance of making a layup over a 6-9 defender than he does.)
In addition to the problems up front, these Duke teams just don't have that killer instinct. In the past, the Blue Devils would go on those monster 20-2 runs - Dick Vitale gushed over them—but those have been missing at critical moments. Duke scored the first three points of the second half today and seemed to have all the momentum coming out of the locker rooms, but let it slip away.
So Duke ends its season at 28-6. Not a bad mark, a record that many teams would be happy to have. (West Virginia is 26-10 right now, for the record.) But it’s strange to see the Blue Devils out of the tournament early again, as they have become one of those teams—like a UConn, like a Syracuse, like an Indiana – that you can’t just assume will be there at the end every year.
For the first time since 2001, when Duke defeated Arizona in the championship game, I correctly predicted Duke’s tournament finish. I had WVU bouncing them in all of my brackets, and told all my friends who asked to do the same.
Sadly, it came true.