If the 2013-2014 Duke Basketball season taught us anything it is that you should never buy into wholesale optimism and hype.
This was supposed to be a dominant team with the top incoming freshman in Jabari Parker, a skilled and experienced backcourt and the addition of a smooth wing player in Rodney Hood. This was supposed to be an explosive team offensively that applied pressure and pushed the tempo.
The motto on the Duke Basketball poster was “Fast and Furious” indicating, at least in theory, a proclivity for running and generating points in transition. The problem with that was obvious from game one: This was not a very good defensive team, and well to generate points in transition and run, a team has to be at least average on the defensive end.
I hesitate to call this an atypical Duke defensive team because in recent years Duke’s traditional defense has been average at best and far from the trademark that had come to define Mike Krzyzewski’s teams.
There are a lot of theories as to why that is but that isn’t the gist of this article. With the end of the season comes the traditional Duke fanatic focus on the next year, and why not? The 2014-15 squad certainly appears to be one that could be very good.
With a recruiting class that has been called, perhaps a bit hyperbolically, the best in Krzyzewski’s career, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic that next year will be a good team. That being said there, for me at least, are just as many reasons to feel that next year could just be more of the same since it has become clear that Duke is all in on the one and done recruiting model.
Now this isn’t going to be a sermon on the ills of one and done, but the fact that there is almost a direct correlation in my mind to the pursuit of one and done super recruits and Duke moving away from its trademark tenacious defense and into a more ‘try to score more than the other guy,’ style of play.
It started with Austin Rivers, who clearly wasn’t interested in learning to play defense. Even Kyrie Irving, for his short-lived brilliance, was not a defensive stalwart. This year Parker and Hood, clearly Duke’s two best players, were anything but good defensive players.
That isn’t an indictment on them as people or players. They weren’t used to or expected to be great defensive players because they had always been counted on for their prowess scoring the basketball. The problem is that when you look at Duke’s successful seasons, namely those ending or incorporating a championship of some sort, one of the best players on those teams was usually, at worst, a good defensive player. That hasn’t been the case lately.
Now in years past that wasn’t a problem with the young guys because you knew they would develop over time. In this day and age though, there is no down the road development. Teams have to win and win now because their best players will only be there at most two years and in most cases just a single season.
While Duke fans are clearly ecstatic about next year’s team featuring a recruiting class of Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen along with a solid supporting cast, the fact remains, that unless Parker stays (which I don’t think he will) the best players on the team will be freshman.
History won’t be on Duke’s side. Save for one Kentucky team led by freshman, the trend has not yielded positive results. Look at this year as a prime example. UConn lead by a veteran, experienced player came out of nowhere, got hot and won the title beating a freshman laden team.
Preseason expectations, much like this season will be through the roof but the fact remains this will be an extremely young team and to be honest, I’m not certain that Krzyzewski, who has said he plans on coaching five more years, has shown the proclivity for molding such a young team into a championship team.
Now to quote Seth Greenberg’s oft used phrase, I’d be certifiably insane to think that Duke couldn’t cut down some nets next season. They will have a ton of talent and if Parker does miraculously decide to stay for his sophomore season, the Blue Devils will be a very dangerous team.
However, one simply cannot dismiss history. Freshman led teams rarely win it all and there is a possibility next year could be similar to some of the more recent disappointments. You can also probably bank on at least two from next year’s super recruiting class to not be back for the following season.
The one and done model has forced teams that once built great teams on the backs of experience to rebuild with inexperience. That inexperience is talented but talent can get you but so far.
So, when I read the musing of Duke fans and hear the cacophony of hypothetical lineups, rotations and predictions of greatness, I can’t help but laugh a little bit and think about Mercer, Lehigh, VCU etc…
Those were all teams that have beaten more talented Duke teams in the not too distant past. Talent does not conquer all. It helps but experience is a must.
Expectations of greatness from a team that has yet to even have a practice, much less play a game are grossly exaggerated at this point in my opinion. The potential is clearly there for greatness but the expectation that this team will be great simply because it is Duke wreaks of arrogance and blind optimism.
And while that can be fun, it also can lead to heart wrenching disappointment. So this summer perhaps instead of fixating on Duke Basketball just relax and think of something else for a while. Plus, Duke is a football school if you haven’t heard so you can always focus on that sport until November and then let the season play out.