Duke Blue Devils' Season Ends on Sour Note, Lots of Questions Ahead

Mike KlineAnalyst IMarch 25, 2011

The season has ended for Duke basketball. It also marks the end of the careers of Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler.
The season has ended for Duke basketball. It also marks the end of the careers of Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler.Harry How/Getty Images

Wasn't expecting that.

The Duke Blue Devils ended their 2011 season on the receiving end of a 93-77 throttling at the hands of Arizona Thursday night.

While Arizona was certainly capable of beating Duke, few would have expected the way in which it did it.

Friday is bound to be full of head scratching, excuse making and denial, but make no mistake—Arizona took it to Duke in the second half. The Wildcats beat Duke both figuratively and literally in every way possible.

Derrick Williams proved he is the real deal, and the best team certainly won the game, so it is on to the Elite Eight for Arizona.

But for the Blue Devils, their season is officially over, and so are the careers of two of the greatest in Duke history.

Make no mistake, the loss hurts; but for Duke fans, they should be celebrating the end of Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler's wonderful careers.

Smith put together a magical All-American and Player of the Year-type season. Unfortunately for him and Duke, Thursday's game was possibly the worst of the season for the Blue Devils star.

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Singler managed to bust out of his slump early, but foul trouble negated some of his aggressiveness in the second half, when Arizona made its decisive run.

Still, both Singler and Smith can say they went out as two of the best to don a Duke uniform, and one, maybe both, will see his jersey hanging in the rafters.

Smith's smooth all-around game, great personality and refuse-to-lose attitude will be greatly missed. As for Singler, the tough-as-nails forward battled to the very end as you would expect despite an up-and-down season shooting.

Mike Krzyzewski said it best when he described how cruel the NCAA tournament can be when considering the abruptness of how a season can end.

For Duke, which was widely considered the favorite in the matchup, it is an abrupt end to a season that had high expectations and hopes for another national championship.

Moving forward, the Blue Devils have a myriad of questions to answer in the next few weeks.

For starters, how do you replace two players like Singler and Smith? The easy answer is you don't.

The Blue Devils will have to find some leadership and talent from their existing players and hope the incoming freshmen can make up some for the talent loss.

To make matters worse, star freshman point guard Kyrie Irving is likely to have played his last game. Despite only playing in 13 games due to a toe injury, Irving is projected to go high in the NBA draft.

While no decision has been made yet, there is a very slim chance that Irving would actually come back and turn down a top five position in the draft with his stock so high.

To make matters worse, NBA scouts are high on Mason Plumlee's potential, and that may be an issue for the Blue Devils should he decide to jump early.

Despite having a less than consistent season, Plumlee has a lot of scouts interested in his potential, and he may be drafted higher than many believe based on that.

The question for Duke: Is that potential tempting enough for Plumlee? If so, Duke has some holes in the post it would have to fill with younger, less developed talent.

On a positive note, though, Duke does bring in a highly regarded recruiting class featuring No. 1 prospect Austin Rivers, as well as mid- to high-level recruits in guard/forward Michael Gbinije, point guard Quinn Cook and center Marshall Plumlee.

The Blue Devils are also high on class of 2011 power forward DeAndre Daniels' list. Daniels has recently piqued a higher level of interest in Duke.

Should Plumlee leave, a guy like Daniels would help out in the post. Either way, if Duke lands him, it will feature a very athletic and possibly the No. 1-ranked recruiting class.

Clearly the Blue Devils will be reloading, but there will be a bit of rebuilding as well, as they must search for some leaders on and off the court.

Also worth watching closely is the development of guys like Andre Dawkins and Ryan Kelly, as well as current freshmen Tyler Thornton and Joshua Hairston.

They will all have a chance to further develop in August, when Duke makes a trip to China and the Middle East as part of an overseas trip allowed by the NCAA every four years.

The Blue Devils will get extra time to practice and play together against international competition.

As well, thanks to Team USA winning the FIBA World Championship last summer, Krzyzewski will not be tied up getting the Olympic team in position to qualify since winning at the worlds guarantees them a spot in the 2012 Games.

That means the greatest coach in college basketball will have a whole summer to mull over what happens with his roster and what he plans to do with who he has.

For Duke fans, there are plenty of reasons to be sad, but just as many to be hopeful for next year and beyond.