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Four big questions facing Duke’s offseason

So, Friday. I guess we have to talk about Friday.

My view: Duke’s loss will go down as a disappointing end to a team that was never quite as good as its record indicated. It wasn’t “one of the toughest losses” in Mike Krzyzewski’s career, like CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson’s leading post-game question suggested. (He’s lost seven times in the Final Four, one of which was a 30-point loss to UNLV. Those were probably pretty tough losses.)

It also wasn’t the massive upset that Duke haters have so gleefully claimed it to be. This year’s Duke team was never going to be a “juggernaut,” as Krzyzewski said Friday. It started the year poor defensively. And when the defense finally improved, the Blue Devils couldn’t hit a shot. As Mason Plumlee said on Friday: “I don’t think we fully developed the identity we needed going into this tournament.... When you’re not strong together, you’re going to fall apart.” It just wasn’t the Blue Devils’ year.

But you know what? I’m not going to talk about Friday anymore. I came here to bury the 2011-12 season, not to praise it—or harp on it.

Let’s now shift our focus to four questions about what is to come in the off-season. It’s going to be a long, and possibly tumultuous, one.

  1. Will Austin Rivers return?

Dear Austin,

Go pro. Seriously.

Kidding! Not going there. Save the hate mail.

Here’s the thing: Losing Rivers would be a huge blow to the Blue Devils. Not only did he become the go-to scorer for the team, he showed himself incredibly adept at creating his own shot. And he was obviously an integral part of the Duke offense. The ACC rookie of the year averaged 15.5 points per game, shot 43 percent from the field and took control of the ball on 20 percent of the Blue Devils’ possessions.

Plus, he’s obviously an incredible competitor. Some have called his confidence and swagger a form of youthful petulance, but just watch interviews from after the Lehigh game. You’ll see a player who cares deeply about the outcome of the game—you can’t fake that emotion. “They outfought us, they outworked us, and in this tournament nothing matters but talent,” he said in the Greensboro locker room. “They’re walking out of here with a W, and it’s the worst feeling of my life.”

Expect a high level of worry from Duke fans about Rivers’ future plans.

  1. Will recruits come in?

Time has shown that Duke fans who fretted over Krzyzewski’s decision to coach the 2008 Olympic team have been proven wrong. He won the gold, notched a national championship a couple of years later and even found the time to bring in some blue-chip prospects.

This year, though, will pose a particular challenge with Krzyzewski gone coaching the new Redeem Team in London. While he is across the pond with the NBA’ers, presumably helping think up a new national team name, the Blue Devils will need to pull in more players.

Only one recruit, Rasheed Sulaimon, is set to matriculate so far, and Duke is part of a crowded pack vying for the attention No. 1 recruit Shabazz Muhammad, who’s taking his fifth official visit—to UCLA—in April. Other recruits, including Tony Parker and Amile Jefferson, are seeing heavy attention from other schools as well.

Avoiding a one-person recruiting class will be a difficult challenge, to say the least.

  1. Will the coaching staff change up?

Associate head coach Chris Collins may be a hot commodity on the NCAA coaching carousel.

He said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune Mar. 16 that he would “definitely listen” to offers from Illinois, and one has to think other schools with upcoming coaching vacancies will also take a look at Collins. He’s spent 12 years under Krzyzewski and has experience coaching NBA stars on the Olympic team. There are few better prepared assistant coaches in the country.

If he is picked up by another school, the Duke coaching staff will have to shuffle around, and we may see another assistant hired. Keep an eye on this.

  1. Will I be okay knowing that every game I watch from now on is as a Duke alum?



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