Duke's Dream Season Ends in Disaster: Early Exit Seals These Blue Devils' Legacy

Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesBrian PedersenFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2017

If they make a film about Duke’s 2016-17 season, they’re going to need to change a finale to fit a rest of a story. Otherwise people will be walking out of a museum sorely unhappy that something so intriguing for so prolonged had such an unsatisfying ending.

Unofficially announced inhabitant champions prolonged before a deteriorate began, a Blue Devils had a trail to feat that seemed as transparent as could be on paper. Boundless talent, second-to-none coaching and championship knowledge done many consider a sixth pretension was a given.

In reality, this group was never as good as it was on paper, during slightest not mostly adequate to count. Sunday’s 88-81 detriment to South Carolina in a second turn of a NCAA contest gathering that indicate home and done for an impossibly unsatisfactory finish to such a earnest season.

It’s not like this is a initial time Duke has been bounced progressing than expected, as a 2012 and 2014 teams were dissapoint in a turn of 64 and a 2011 patrol (which was a fortifying champ) was a No. 1 seed nonetheless mislaid by 16 to Arizona in a Sweet 16. But there’s a opposite vibe to this exit, and not usually since of a large hype this group garnered entrance into a season.

That beforehand regard was distinct with Duke’s returning a likes of bomb youth scorer Grayson Allen and seniors Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones, all of whom were constituent to a 2015 pretension run, along with rising sophomore Luke Kennard. On tip of that, a Blue Devils were adding a No. 1 recruiting class that featured a contingent of expected NBA lottery picks in Marques Bolden, Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum.

Plenty of other installed teams have depressed brief of greatness, too, so not vital adult to expectations doesn’t apart this Duke group from a rest of a pack. What does, though, is how Duke so mostly managed to pretence us into desiring it could overcome an roughly nonstop run of adversity.

Before winning 4 games in as many days to explain a ACC contest title, that sparked copiousness of discuss about either it could turn a initial eight-loss No. 1 seed, Duke had mislaid 3 of four. Before using off 7 in a quarrel from Jan. 28 to Feb. 18 with wins over North Carolina and during Notre Dame and Virginia, a Blue Devils had non-stop joining play during 3-4.

That duration featured manager Mike Krzyzewski‘s sudden departure to bear behind medicine as good as a “indefinite” cessation of Allen following another tripping occurrence (which finished adult durability one game). That was usually a footnote of a tremendously severe deteriorate for Allen.

And before an early-December win over Florida during Madison Square Garden, a diversion in that Tatum initial done his participation known, we were left wondering if we’d ever get to see a built lineup we’d been betrothed before a season.

Duke looked like a legitimate inhabitant pretension contender in winning a ACC tournament. That wasn’t a box usually over a week later.Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

So many times we were prepared to count Duke out, a plant of business and a cautionary story for because we don’t count your championships before a games are played. And usually as many times, if not more, we were peaceful to omit all a warning signs and select to trust this was a championship-caliber team.

Turns out, a Blue Devils were both a kind of group that can post 13 wins over top-50 RPI teams nonetheless also remove to one of a some-more insignificant No. 7 seeds in new memory. And by not removing out of a initial weekend of a NCAA tourney, a group will face a aloft decibel of “failure” sound than had it reached a Sweet 16 or Elite Eight usually to crawl out.

Instead we’re left with disappointments and what-ifs, many notably:

What if Harry Giles had been means to play like a man projected as a No. 1 collect as recently as final summer instead of one who looked fearful to risk another damage with NBA millions so tighten in a future? The 6’10” forward, who didn’t play his initial diversion with Duke until Dec. 19 while recuperating from preseason arthroscopic knee surgery, played usually 11.5 mins per diversion and went scoreless and had 3 rebounds in 9 mins in what’s expected his final college game.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

What if Allen hadn’t faced a predicament of demur brought on mostly by his possess actions nonetheless also a consistent ridicule of a college basketball proletariat for being “that guy” from Duke that everybody loves to hate? What if he’d been means to omit a haters instead of saying his scoring normal drop from 21.6 points per diversion as a sophomore to 14.5 with scarcely as many single-digit or scoreless efforts as ones when he went for 20 or more?

After all that happened this season, a NCAA contest was Duke’s possibility during emancipation and validation, that it didn’t matter how many perils and pitfalls it faced before being on a sport’s biggest stage. With so many good players during a disposal, it was probable to have Allen struggle, have Giles play frightened and not see Bolden rise and still win.

Tatum could have cemented himself as one of Duke’s best freshmen ever instead of nonetheless another good one-and-done player. Kennard’s presentation as a go-to actor could have put him in a same difficulty as former Blue Devils like J.J. Redick or Jay Williams. And Jefferson, a glue that helped reason this fractured group together for most of a year, could have furthered his legacy.

A second-round flameout done nothing of that possible. This deteriorate was a disaster, and there’s no other approach to specify something that hold such promise.


All statistics pleasantness of Sports-Reference.com, unless differently noted. All recruiting information pleasantness of Scout.com, unless differently noted.

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter during @realBJP.

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