You know, 28-6 is a great season.
That's what Mike Krzyzewski said after Duke's loss to West Virginia Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Respectfully, I beg to differ.
28-6 can be a great season, and for many programs it is. Davidson is in the midst of a great 28-6 season. Drake had a great 28-4 season. Butler certainly had a great 30-4 season.
But Coach, don't pretend the outcome of this season was anything less than disappointing. Doing so does a disservice to the historic legacy you've established.
Being "great" is a goal. Saying this season was "great" means that you're satisfied with the result. Believing this season was "great" means you'd enjoy it in the future.
I wouldn't. As a member of the second class since 1985 to leave Duke without enjoying a Final Four trip, I'm not happy with how this team, just like last year's, struggled down the stretch.
There were certainly exciting points. Winning at Carolina, coming back at Maryland and dominating a very good Wisconsin team at home-those were memorable moments that illustrated the best of Duke Basketball.
But this team can recruit nationally, has a staggering eight McDonald's All-Americans and a Hall-of-Fame coach and is supposed to be one of the nation's elite. Losing to a gutsy seventh seed after narrowly squeaking by a gutsy 15 seed one year after bowing out in the first round to a gutsy 11 seed is nothing short of a collapse.
And year-ending implosions do not cap "great" seasons.
Losing five of your last 11 games is not part a "great" season. Losing in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament is not a "great" season. Losing on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is not a "great" season.
When you're talking about a team with three national championships in the last 20 years, a team that fails to hang a banner of any sort cannot be considered "great."
If it is-if Krzyzewski truly thinks this season was "great"-then something about Duke Basketball needs to change.
The list of problems is not short, and, sorry Duke Basketball Report, it is not a sin for a fan to admit that. I certainly appreciate the effort the team put forth Saturday and don't doubt DeMarcus Nelson was trying his damndest. But Duke students don't sleep in the cold for two months just to see players give it their all. Expectations can and should be high, and they were not fulfilled this year or last.
But it is difficult to expect a strong showing next season when many of the program's undeniable issues are structural.
The team's rebounding struggles, for example, can't be blamed on a lack of effort. During the last four years, including two teams with Shelden Williams, the Blue Devils struggled on the glass, giving up 177 more offensive rebounds than they corralled. In part, it has to do with defensive strategy, as pressure on the wings forces Duke's big men to help on penetration, leaving them out of position to box out. Exhibit A: Saturday, when West Virginia pulled down 19 offensive rebounds en route to winning the board battle 47-27.
The team's lack of developed big men seems to have a lot to do with recruiting techniques, as well. There's an obvious theme in the list of recent Duke forwards Eric Boateng, Brian Zoubek, Jamal Boykin, Lance Thomas and Dave McClure. None of these players had polished offensive games when they came to campus, most likely in an effort to keep Blue Devils from jumping ship to the NBA. But while here, none has developed a passable offensive game and two seemed to feel they could develop better elsewhere. Even the nation's top recruit of two years ago, Josh McRoberts, had few discernible post skills.
The frequent complaint is that 5-foot-10 former point guard Steve Wojciechowski is Duke's big-man coach, making it difficult for the Blue Devils to attract and develop NBA-quality post players. Having never been to practice, it's difficult to say whether that's true.
But something is amiss in Duke's recruiting techniques, mainly because none of Duke's staff members have been forced to understand the new recruiting landscape. Everyone responsible for recruiting attended Duke and returned to Durham after professional careers. Krzyzewski has said publicly that he doesn't like the NBA's mandate that players must go to college for at least one year, and it doesn't appear he's figured out how to recruit with that law in place. The players who committed or were expected to commit to Duke-Shaun Livingston comes to mind-never made it to campus, and despite making a full recruiting pitch, Duke missed on a high-profile one-and-dones in Brandan Wright and likely another in Kevin Love. After next year, you'll likely be able to add the nation's top recruit Greg Monroe, who spurned Duke for Georgetown, to that list. And just yesterday, the team lost out on targeted big man Greg Echenique, who unofficially committed to Rutgers.
It doesn't help, either, that instead of spending the summer analyzing why Blue Devil squads have looked fatigued the final month in each of the last four seasons, the entire coaching staff will be in China. Krzyzewski contends that USA Basketball does not take away any focus from his first priority here in Durham-it even helped this year, as he instituted Phoenix Suns coach Mike D'Antoni's offensive schemes and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim's zone defense. But Duke, not Team USA, is Krzyzewski's primary job. There is simply no way Bruce Pearl spends the summer lying shirtless on a Caribbean beach, drinking pina coladas and not obsessing about ways to bring Tennessee to his first Final Four.
OK, he might be shirtless.
I certainly don't have all the answers. But I sure would like to see a little more urgency in the search for solutions. If Coach K really wants his teams to be great, he has to understand that this one wasn't.
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