Narratives and legacies are defined by moments.
It’s funny how sports work that way.
While the rational thing to do is judge a coach or player by the entirety of his career, or a team by its full body of work over a complete season, we remember the big moments.
We hang banners for moments. CBS plays its corny song and highlight video full of moments.
The drama of sport is that for every moment that is thrilling for one, it’s heartbreaking for the other.
The jubilation of UMBC and Ryan Odom’s victory comes at the expense of Tony Bennett and Virginia. The fairytale of Kris Jenkins’ buzzer beater to win the national championship for Villanova is a nightmare for Marcus Paige and North Carolina. The joy of Jim Valvano running around the court looking for someone to hug in Albuquerque in 1983 came as Akeem Olajuwon and his Houston teammates were stunned in defeat.
As Duke fans, we’ve been on the better end of many of those moments.
Knocking off the invincible UNLV team in 1991. Christian Laettner’s shot against Kentucky in 1992. Watching Gordon Hayward’s buzzer beater attempt rattle off the rim in 2010. Tyus Jones putting the game away down the stretch against Wisconsin in 2015.
Those are some of our favorite moments and we’ll always cherish them.
Unfortunately, Duke was on the wrong end of one of those moments against Kansas this past Sunday.
It looked like it would be Grayson Allen’s moment…until it wasn’t.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 25, 2018
Had Allen’s shot gone in at the end of regulation, the conversation today would be about how Duke managed to withstand the 3-point shooting of Kansas and overcome the foul trouble for Wendell Carter to claw its way back to another Final Four. Allen’s shot would have gone down as one of the most clutch plays in the history of the program and it would be an incredible bookend to his 4-year career as a Blue Devil, which began with him helping the team win a national championship as a freshman.
But those aren’t the things Duke fans are talking about today.
Instead, Allen’s shot touched every part of the rim before rolling off, forcing the Blue Devils into an overtime period where they would eventually fall to the Jayhawks in an 85-81 defeat.
We’re wondering why Coach K tried to use a 1-3-1 zone for part of the 2nd half, how Wendell Carter could get called for a block on an obvious charge, why Duke couldn’t figure out how to rebound the ball, and who will be in the starting lineup next season.
Duke’s season is over while Bill Self and Kansas advance to San Antonio to face Villanova. Self will get the credit for neutralizing Duke’s dominant frontcourt and capitalizing on Duke’s zone defense. The Jayhawks will receive praise for controlling the glass and creating so many second chance opportunities.
It’s amazing how much things change if certain moments work out differently.
For Duke fans, Sunday’s game and the 2017-18 season will be remembered as what could have been. What could have been if Wendell Carter could make a shot in the paint to give Duke a 5-point lead with 35 seconds remaining? What could have been had Duke not lost Svi Mykhailiuk for an open three-point shot to tie the game? What could have been had Grayson Allen’s shot went in? What could have been had Carter not been whistled for his 5th foul on a horrible call by Roger Ayers in overtime?
What could have been in a potential Final Four matchup between Duke and Villanova?
We’re only left to wonder.
The 2017-18 Duke basketball season has come to an end quicker than we wanted.
We’ve seen Grayson Allen play his last game as a Blue Devil, and it’s likely we’ve also seen the last of Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter, Gary Trent, and Trevon Duval in a Duke uniform.
A season that began with so much hype and expectation ends in disappointing fashion.
Unless you’re the one lifting the trophy after the final game, that’s how it goes in sports.
Those are the defining moments.
Remember the great moments these Duke players and this season gave us. And let’s hope for even better moments next season.