The Duke Blue Devils have long been one of the flagship programs in college basketball. The program has risen to almost mythical heights under legendary head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who’s in his final season on the sidelines after 42 years in Durham.
You can say Coach K’s coaching for his career, because his next loss will be his last game as head coach.
Hopes along Tobacco Road were that this version of the Blue Devils, led by freshman phenom Paolo Banchero, could send Coach K out on top by capturing his sixth national championship. ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg isn’t sold on that happening after watching the team over the past few weeks.
— Duke Men’s Basketball (@DukeMBB) March 14, 2022
The team lost Coach K’s final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium to archrival UNC by double-digits. Then they were blown out in the ACC Championship by the program the aforementioned Greenberg used to coach, the Virginia Tech Hokies.
Greenberg says he saw some alarming realities that don’t bode well for a deep tourney run for the talented but inexperienced Blue Devils, who start three freshmen, one sophomore and just one senior.
On a recent segment on ESPN’s Get Up, Greenberg talked about the 28-6 team, and he wasn’t too high on their chances of cutting down the nets in New Orleans.
.@SethOnHoops has thoughts on Duke men's basketball 😳
"I don't see [the NCAA tournament] going well [for Duke]. … They're not playing at a high level. … I don't like that they don't have an identity offensively or defensively." pic.twitter.com/7iuYYZaBMl
— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) March 14, 2022
“I don’t see it going well. They’re not playing well. They’re not playing at a high level. If you look at the last three weeks or so — they haven’t played well. Why haven’t they played well? I don’t think they have an identity offensively. I’m not exactly sure where they want to get Paolo Banchero the ball. They don’t have any consistency in their half-court execution, and then defensively, they’re not turning people over.”
“Duke’s not playing at a high level and they’ve got Michigan State in front of them — obviously a terrific team in the NCAA Tournament. Texas Tech is a hard team to play against — they keep you on the side — really physical and athletic. Obviously, Gonzaga is on top. I don’t like the way Duke is playing right now. I don’t like their identity offensively or defensively.”
Duke’s Youth And Coach K Retirement Is Added Pressure: Banchero Is So GOOD
It’s no secret that Coach K and Coach Cal at Kentucky have been the kings of the “one and done” era. Both have tasted success winning championships with the one-year five-star recruits. But they’ve also tasted more in-season struggles and early tournament exits as well.
This season is no different for Duke, who has six losses to the likes of Miami, Virginia, UNC, Florida State, Virginia Tech and Ohio State. What do those teams all have in common? They have upperclassmen playing vital roles for them. Experience does play a factor, and outside of two-way wing Wendell Moore Jr., the Blue Devils don’t have a lot of that.
Freshman Sensation Leads The Way: He’s No Carmelo Anthony
The Blue Devils are led by the aforementioned Banchero, a five-star recruit and possible No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft.
He projects as a blend of former NBA stalwart bigs Chris Webber and David West, but is just scratching the surface with how good he can be. He fits today’s modern NBA game as the prototypical stretch 4. At 6 feet 10 and 250 pounds he can do it all, which is score from all three levels, with a post game, mid-post game and capable of stepping out to the three-point line with ease. He’s also a great passer out of the double-team. Point blank, he’s the Blue Devils’ hope at a long, deep tourney run.
Paolo Banchero was cooking last night.
🔥 18 PTS
🔥 11 REB
🔥 4 AST pic.twitter.com/XVL0qCyKiF
— SLAM University (@slam_university) March 12, 2022
Coach K Knows This Is It: Can He Push The Right Buttons?
The Blue Devils are still finding out how good they can be, and that’s not a bad thing as they enter the tournament. However, Coach K knows that the finality of one March Madness loss leaves no room for error and no time for indecision.
“There’s no second chances for anybody — that’s what makes the tournament the best thing in sports,” Krzyzewski said this week. “If you don’t win, you’re out. There’s only one champion. There aren’t 20 different bowl games and stuff like that, and that’s why it’s so hard. It’s a gauntlet. It’s so hard to win. You just have to focus on what you’re doing with that specific opponent. I don’t want any of my guys having brackets and that — just focus on Friday, and hopefully we can do well and then whoever we could have an honor to play, focus on that team. Each game is really a championship game.”
— Duke Men’s Basketball (@DukeMBB) March 14, 2022
A GOAT Farewell
Coach K has won five national championships and made a record 12 Final Fours. If he has any hope of doing either in his last run, it’ll be on the back of Paolo Banchero.
Peak Duke is still super scary. As much pure talent as any team in the country. But to string together four or six wins in the tourney, you need all the intangibles, and it's hard to build that with such a young roster. This is perhaps the oldest college basketball has ever been
— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 13, 2022
Don’t bet against Coach K. The odds were stacked against him in 2010 and they won the whole thing. The basketball gods will decide how he goes out in the end.