NCAA Tournament Without Duke? Could It Happen?
Probably not, but the fact that columns like this one on Fox Sports are popping up and asking that question is newsworthy.
I have been frustrated watching Coach K get a free pass from the national media while his team has floundered on its way to a 5-6 ACC record. Yoni Cohen comes the closest I've found so far to calling him out:
If the Blue Devils aren't able to quickly turn their season around, Duke fans .....will ask if Coach K has lost some of his luster.
That question may be premature, given that Duke is still a good bet to make the NCAA tournament. It may also be callous, because even in the past five seasons, few coaches have had as much success as Krzyzewski. But it won't be entirely without cause. After several years of disappointing in March, Coach K's club is underperforming in February.
As I watched the Blue Devils' last two losses vs. North Carolina and Maryland (where the struggling Terps dropped a 29-4 run on them in the first half), I heard a lot of sympathy for K and the struggles he is having with an unusually young team.
Whose fault is that? Are any key players injured--no. Did any players from last year's team leave early for the NBA--no. What's up with all of these studs he's recruited? Let's take a look:
This year's key freshmen:
Lance Thomas, ranked #15 nationally by Rivals.com--With 4.4 points and 2.9 rebounds in 15 minutes per game, he has not been a major factor.
Gerald Henderson, ranked #20 by Rivals.com--An asthmatic condition has limited his playing time. He has shown flashes of pure athleticism and averages 6.1 points per game.
Jon Scheyer, #28 by Rivals.com--He has made the biggest impact by far of any Duke freshman this season. He averages 12.2 points and at times has been the Devils' only consistent outside threat. I haven't seen him do anything else particularly well but shoot so far.
Brian Zoubek, #44 by Rivals.com--He has taken some of Josh McRoberts minutes in recent games (all losses) and just seems to be a big body to take up room near the basket.
Josh McRoberts, ranked #1 by Sporting News coming out of high school--I think McRoberts is a gifted player. He can shoot, pass, dribble, rebound, and block shots. McRoberts has become a puzzling player however, and one who has also puzzled his coach if his recent one-game demotion is any indication. During the second half against Maryland, he aggressively exploited mismatches inside and kept Duke in the game. I don't know why he doesn't do that more often. He should have better numbers than North Carolina'sTyler Hansbrough because he has better talent, but he doesn't have Pshcyo T's fire.
Greg Paulis, ranked #14 by Sporting News--Paulis is perhaps more of an enigma this season than McRoberts. He has played better of late, but still not as consistently as he did last season. The issue with his pre-season injury is past its shelf life, so like McRoberts it seems to me his real issue lies between his ears.
Jamal Boynkin and Marty Pocius--Non factors.
This is either a talented team that is underachieving or a group that isn't as talented as the experts figured based on those high recruiting rankings.
Either way, it reflects on the coach.
Mike Krzyzewski is not having a good year, and he didn't have a great one last year, getting knocked out in the Sweet 16 with two of the best players in the nation (Redick and Williams) on his roster.
Coach K's place in history as one of the greatest coaches in the history of college basketball is secure, but he's not one of the best in the ACC this season. I submit that Boston College's Al Skinner, Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg, and NC State's Sidney Lowe (to my astonishment) are all getting more out of their team this year than Coach K.
The Duke dynasty is not crumbling, but it is slipping. If they don't rally to an 8-8 record in the ACC, they won't deserve an NCAA bid (although I suspect their name will get the Devils in at 7-9). Duke needs the on-court leadership and intensity that their fans have for so long taken for granted. Without it, the program will continue to drift back into the pack of good but not great teams.