Duke Basketball: Expectations vs. Reality

jabariparkerIf 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.

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13 Replies to “Duke Basketball: Expectations vs. Reality”

  1. NomeOfUrBuisness says:

    Duke Hater…No Faith in the Blue Devils! No Faith In That Duke Can Improve Overtime! Nothing Positive to say about the Blue Devils.

    Mine-as-well say you’re a Carolina Die Hard Fan

    1. tyler says:

      i think what you’re trying to say is “might as well”

  2. AV5050 says:

    Which recent Duke teams were bad defensively? 2010 – they were the best defensive team in the country that year. 2011? – they were very good defensively and were clearly the favorie to win it all before the #1 pick in the draft the following year got hurt. 2012? – not great, but not that awful. Last year? With Kelly, they were clearly a Top 5 defensive team in the country and would have walked into a #1 seed if he didn’t go down. I don’t disagree that next year’s team is incorrectly already being called a favorite without accomplishing anything but get your facts a little more correct.

  3. steve says:

    Great article, Mike. I think you’re absolutely right on talent versus experience in college basketball.

  4. SemperFi says:

    I think Mike Kline is saying we Duke fans should have tempered enthusiasm. I heartily agree! I try (not always successful) to have lower expectations of my teams than the most fans. This is a technique I use to maintain some mental stability. Being also a Buffalo Bills fan will condition you this way. Now you know where I’m coming from. With that said, what’s unique about this incoming class is a strong, space filling center with back to the basket moves. This was the missing piece with Jabari/Hood led team. Guys were playing out of position because of it. I’m not saying Jahlil will be like an Anthony Davis led Kentucky team taking us to the Promise Land. But, I expect him to often demand double teams, leaving the weak side open for Amile or Marshall to rebound or slam it home. This also leaves our shooters open for uncontested 3s. This will in theory create a wonder offensive balance that will confound opposing coaches.
    Now the defense is not so easy. I sure do long for the floor slapping defense of years gone by too. To me this is a major question mark in my mind. Having a rim protector will help, but is not a cure all. Individual defense will break down from time to time. That’s when team defense comes into play and having each other’s back. It takes intelligence, integrity, and chemistry for it to work. My impression is that this team and the incoming class has the intelligence & integrity, let’s just hope the chemistry is not far behind. So I’m excited about the possibilities, but I proceed with cautious optimism to maintain my sanity.

  5. Reisa says:

    I would think that one thing we learned from this season was that we shouldn’t have over blown expectations with even the highest ranked recruits coming in. I do think with this group, along with Sheed & Amile & hopefully Quinn to step up as leaders we have a better chance to go further.

    I also expect Coach K to approach things differently next season.
    As far as fans excitement & talking about different line-ups, nothing is going to stop that! We love Duke basketball & when the season is over some have to find whatever they can to talk about it! Maybe that’s what they mean by #DukeBasketballNeverStops

  6. tyler says:

    I think its bc of USA basketball. I really don’t feel like explaining my whole theory haha but my dad suggested it and it makes sense. But ill explain anyway: started coaching USA BB in 2006 so from then till now. But lets go back to before he started USA BB. And this is strictly NCAA tournament stats. From 1996 to 2004 W/L in the tourney was 25-8. Losses- 1 first round loss, 1 second round loss, 3 third round losses, 1 elite 8 loss, 1 semifinal loss, 1 final game loss and 1 title. From 2006-2014, our beloved dukies have only been 16-8. In that time span we’ve been done in the first round 3 times, 1 second round loss, 3 third round losses, 1 final 8 loss and 1 title.

    1. tyler says:

      all credit goes to my dad he sent me the info

  7. Robin says:

    Your article Mike is true in a lot of ways. You are leaving out the one key reason in my opinion as to Duke’s lack of success this year and overall since 2010. No it’s not lack of talent or experience, it’s Coach K. He falls in love with the “superstar” and forgets about the team. I know I’m criticizing a legend who has forgot more about basketball than all of us know but I am. This team was not given best chance of winning and anyone who follows Duke loyally should admit it. If you think I’m wrong then find his press conference after regular season game with Virginia and you’ll see his empty promise that he made. He vowed to play more people, which he did for a short time, and the results were good. But he resorted back to his old ways, and by end of year Plumlee played 3 minutes against Mercer, and Dawkins was a non factor. Also read the sports illustrated article about him and Jabari, where he apologized to Parker’s mom and vowed to do better with him. Am I only one bothered by that? I believe he has hurt other kids on team with their confidence by focusing attention on the “superstar.” Until he looks in mirror and realize that HE needs to do better then I too am not optimistic about cutting nets down. Lets also remember he recruited all these kids and if they don’t improve then who should be blamed for lack of progression?

  8. tyler says:

    and in my opinion hood was pretty good defensively

  9. ken says:

    Mike, I couldn’t agree with you more on virtually every point you made. Young players (freshmen) take time to create chemistry no matter how talented they are individually. These kids come in with a lot of offensive talent but it seems no one knows anything about defense anymore. Trying to out score everyone, every night, will not work. Chemistry takes time, championship chemistry can take years. I just like everyone else here including you hope they can somehow win it all next year, but I can’t put my faith in freshmen led teams anymore. Give me 3 and 4 star players who stay 4 years over the over hyped 5 star players who stay one year and more times than not, I’m gonna beat you. Optimism is fine,,blind optimism is heartbreaking.

  10. Robin says:

    People, it’s a simple problem that ALL coaches of the major programs are in now. The game is different when it comes to recruiting, it’s just that K is choosing to pamper the superstar, which is hurting the whole team. Any coach would have loved to have Parker or land Okafor, but K is one who got them. The problem is how he’s selling the stars now. K is the problem by making rest of team feel as if they are just role players. Every kid nowadays that goes to the elite schools feel as though they are stars, but last few years K seems to only acknowledge a few though as being that. How many kids on his roster were not Mcdonalds all Americans? Sorry but HE needs to get a lot sharper than he’s been

  11. Chris says:

    Mike hit the nail right on the head with this article. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    There’s not one area of that piece that doesn’t have some element of truth in it.

    It’s nice that Duke has the so-called “#1 ranked incoming recruiting class”, but lets wait until they play their first couple of games before we make any of those claims. If the recent past hasn’t taught fans to have tempered expectations, I don’t know what will.

    Defense is what Duke basketball was built on for so many years, I’ve noticed the past few that they have struggled with that element of the game and to be honest, haven’t seen much improvement through the course of an entire season.

    In regards to the development and maturing of a team, the current system prevents a lot of that from happening. It becomes more about who can catch lightning in a bottle more than anything else. UConn proved that in the end, veteran leadership will often times take you farther than just pure talent. How many people can honestly say that they saw UConn going on the run they did and winning the championship?

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