What Harrison Barnes' Decision Means for Duke

Justin McTeerCorrespondent INovember 2, 2009

Remember, remember the twelfth of November—if you're a Duke fan.

That appears to be the day Harrison Barnes, the nation's top-ranked recruit, will announce which school will benefit from his numerous talents.

It just so happens to be a decision that has huge implications for a Duke program working to get back to the not-so-distant days of dominating college basketball.

There are still several schools in the running for Barnes' services other than Duke (North Carolina, Kansas, Oklahoma, UCLA, and Iowa State), but none have as much at stake as the Blue Devils.

North Carolina and Kansas, for example, are fresh off NCAA championships and look poised to make title runs either this season (Kansas) or in the near future (North Carolina). A commitment from Barnes would be the icing on their respective cakes, but both programs would still be favorites without him.

Jeff Capel's Oklahoma program is on the up-and-up for sure, and a Barnes commitment could solidify the program as a destination for elite talent for years to come. However, Capel's Sooners are in contention for a number of top-flight recruits such as Doron Lamb, and simply put, the expectations for the Sooners (at least in basketball) aren't what they are for teams like Kansas, UCLA, and North Carolina.

For Duke, the addition of Barnes to a recruiting class currently highlighted by committed star point guard Kyrie Irving could be what propels the Blue Devils back into their once seemingly eternal spot as national title contenders.

Barnes has been the Blue Devils top target for nearly two years. He has unofficially visited Duke several times, including a much-talked about surprise trip to Durham to see Duke play UNC last year. He just completed his official visit last weekend.

Duke fans have good reason to feel confident in their chances at this point, but so do North Carolina fans.

Although popular belief is still that Barnes will likely be a Blue Devil next year, he remains tight-lipped about where he stands, as he continues to approach the recruiting process as methodically as possible.  

Quite simply, no one knows where he will go and very few people would be shocked if he ended up at either school on Tobacco Road.

But what does Barnes' decision really mean for the Blue Devils?

If he goes elsewhere, would it be a devastating development for a team that seems to be moving towards championship contention again?

To be blunt, no.

Even without Barnes, the Blue Devils will have all the necessary pieces to be a title contender next year. They will have one of the best backcourts in the nation with Irving, Nolan Smith, Andre Dawkins, Seth Curry, and Tyler Thornton. That's a fantastic combination of talent, athleticism, shooting range, and depth.

The Blue Devils already have a number of talented forwards with Miles and Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, and (by next season) Josh Hairston. If Singler stays for his senior year, they would have an All-American candidate surrounded with talent.

Would Barnes put the Blue Devils over the edge in terms of Final Four contention?

Absolutely, as he would certainly be one of the most talented players coach Mike Krzyzewski has ever brought to Duke.  

But it could be easily be argued that in terms of getting Duke back to the Final Four, Irving is more key than Barnes, considering that Duke has been missing an elite point guard for years and the Blue Devils are already deep with versatile forwards.

While missing out on Barnes wouldn't put the Blue Devils out of the top tier of 2010-11 teams, it would be a major miss for Krzyzewski personally.

Irving is a major get for Coach K, but Barnes has been his top priority for a few years now.

If Barnes were to go elsewhere, he would join Brandan Wright, Patrick Patterson, Greg Monroe, and Kenny Boynton as consecutive missed top targets for Krzyzewski.

In his 30 years coaching the Blue Devils, he's never missed on that many top targets consecutively.

Fans have often questioned whether or not Krzyzewski's gig as the Olympic coach has negatively affected his recruiting at Duke. Although Irving's commitment has fans as excited as they have been about a recruit in a while, expect such complaints to continue or intensify if Barnes is not wearing the number 40 at Duke next season even though Krzyzewski has done a lot in the last year to update Duke's recruiting strategy.

Of course, if Barnes joins his "little brother" Irving at Duke, thereby putting a definitive end to Krzyzewski's trend of missing top targets, the Olympic coaching criticisms should go out the window.

The 2010 recruiting class represents the first class who have known Krzyzewski as the Olympic coach throughout the entirety of their high school years (Barnes, Irving, and co. would have been in the 8th grade when Krzyzewski was named the Olympic coach in 2005).

If Barnes comes to Durham, Duke will have a recruiting class that features two of the top five players in the nation based on the RSCI ratings, which is impressive even for a program like Duke.

A Duke commitment from Barnes could be the start of other programs' complaints that Krzyzewski's Olympic coaching job gives Duke an unfair recruiting advantage.

Olympics aside, Barnes, along with Irving, would return Duke's reputation as the program that top recruits want to be a part of.

There is really no way to quantify what Barnes could mean for Duke.

He could tip the scales back in Duke's favor in terms of it's rivalry with UNC, not to mention put Duke back into the spotlight as the favorite to win the title.

He could also be the best NBA prospect to come to Duke in a long time, and help reverse the misconception that Duke doesn't produce NBA talent as well as other programs.

While there is no other program with as many pro alumni than Duke, and Duke pros are the highest paid alumni group in the NBA, that misconception still exists and will continue to until Duke produces another NBA star. 

Barnes could be that player.

With so much potentially on the line for Duke, the twelfth of November seems like it's months away for fans—it's not.

Depending on what Barnes decides that day, it will either be a day that Blue Devils fans remember forever, or a day they try to forget.


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