Is Duke basketball slipping?

Duke is out of the NCAA tournament. They were out before the tournament’s first weekend even started. After Friday’s embarrassing loss to Lehigh, you have to wonder is Duke basketball slipping? This seems like a strange to question for a team went 27-7 that is only 2 years removed from National Title, but since 2004-2005 season the Blue Devils have advanced past the sweet 16 just 1 time.

That being the national championship season of 2010. For the 3rd time in 6 years, Duke didn’t get past the first weekend of the NCAAs. Why am I being critical of team that’s averaged 29 wins since 2005. It’s because when you are the Duke Blue Devils and you are coached by a Hall of Famer like Mike Krzyzewski the standards are not the same as with most basketball programs. They are much much higher.  This is a program that from 1986-2004 when to 10 Final Fours. First weekend tournament exits are not what is expected in Durham. What’s going on?

First let me just say Mike Krzyzewski is still one of the best coaches in the business. In what was somewhat of  a down year at Duke, the Blue Devils still had wins over two number 1 seeds North Carolina and Michigan State. They also won the Maui Classic defeating Kansas in the Finals. There were some big highlights, but it could also be plainly seen that this edition of Duke Basketball didn’t have much athleticism, couldn’t defend, other than Austin Rivers couldn’t break teams down off the dribble and didn’t have a natural PG.

Honestly it’s a testament to Krzyzewski’s coaching ability that Duke was as successful this season as they were. I think Coach K knew he had milked this team this dry. There’s still no reason that they should have lost to Lehigh even if Ryan Kelly was injured.

What about the original question? Is Duke slipping… the answer is yes, but the problem is fixable. As I’ve pointed out Krzyzewski hasn’t fallen as a coach, but possibly as talent evaluator he has. The Plumlee brothers experiment has to be considered a miss thus far. Andre Dawkins has been a disappointment. Other than Rivers and the one year wonder Kryie Irving name me an elite player in Duke’s last 4 signing classes? Yep that’s what I thought.  Rasheed Sulaimon is one the highest ranked guards in the country and he’s coming to Duke next year. He could be the PG that Duke lacked this season, but he’s the only player signed.  

As long as Coach K is at Duke, the Blue Devils will be top 20 team, but they must do a better job of talent evaluation. This team is in sore need of some quickness and athleticism. If they don’t get some Duke may find it increasingly difficult to get back to the Final 4.


  1. Mike Kline says:

    I have to respectfully disagree with some of the points here. I agree that it is a natural question to ask whether Duke is slipping. I made some of the same reference to the lack of progression in the NCAA Tournament on my site the other day. And there is no doubt a loss to a 15 seed hurts and doesn’t look good for a top tier program.

    I don’t think’s K’s eye for talent has been the cause of recent problems. Granted this year Duke didn’t have as much talent as they’ve had in past years and some of his guys haven’t panned out like you said. But I think that is because what we are seeing now is the change in his recruiting philosophy trying to take hold.

    He has been redicent to go after the known one and dones until now. I believe he is attempting to build a team comprised of good four years prospects with one or two great potential one and dones to give him a mix of experience and leadership with skill.

    He went after Irving and Rivers and now Shabazz Muhammad, who clearly looks like a one and done candidate. But he may not come and this recruiting plan, if it is his plan, might not be taking root just yet.

    I think that will take time.

    Now I disagree that Irving and Rivers are the only two elite players Duke has had recently. I consider Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler to have been elite. Maybe they weren’t one and done elite but by the time their careers were over they were elite.

    Sulaimon is a shooting guard, supposedly in the mold of Nolan Smith, and by all accounts he is very good. We’ll see what else happens in recruiting but I for one am not overly concerned. Like you said 27-7 isn’t bad and they were a fairly inexperienced team who I suspect will be better next year, especially if Rivers stays, but even if he doesn’t I think they’ll be okay.

  2. Burke says:

    The last time Duke lost in the first round of the NCAA tourny (’07) and then lost in the second round the following year, I heard the exact same sentiments you are expressing: Duke is done. Duke is slipping. Duke is no longer elite. Two years later they are national champs. As long is Coach K is present, you do not have to have these elite players and elite talent that you say Duke is missing. If Mason Plumlee and Austin Rivers return (which is doubtful both will return) who is to say Duke won’t be one of the top teams in the country next year? They will be a team full of veteran players who understand that defense has been the name of the game for the Blue Devils for over 30 years and that is the reason they did not compete this year. No doubt this team over-achieved by winning the Maui and with all their wins against top teams this year, however they were exposed much of the year with their poor play against sub-par competition and multiple losses at home. That’s what you get with a team who’s best player was a freshman and nobody there to lead. I highly doubt Duke is “slipping” or “done” as the pundits will say. This team over-performed much of the year and unfortunately even though their record said they were a number 2 seed, most people knew they were not a number 2 seed (and Lehigh was no 15 seed). If Miles is the only player Duke loses next year, Duke will be right back in the thick of things. They will be more experienced, much deeper, and I guarantee you the Duke defense of old will be back with this team. Adding in Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee will increase depth and Rasheed will help with the inconsistency behind the arc. IF Shabazz or Jefferson (or both?) commit, Duke’s team will have no problem crushing your theory of the program “slipping” or being “done”.

    Haters keep hating. Duke will be in the conversation as long as K is there. Period.

  3. TobaccoRdMayor says:

    I don’t feel that Duke is slipping, it’s highly unreasonable to believe that any team, even a Coach K team can sustain a program at the very top year after year. I certainly agree they shouldn’t have lost to Lehigh with or without Ryan Kelly, and I also feel certain that if they played them again they would win at least 8 out of 10 times. Any team is going to have a down year, Duke included, but if a down year still yields 27 wins, well, that’s not to bad. I would also say that Duke has won 30 or more games in the last 3 seasons before this year. Mason Plumlee showed great improvement over the year and should he return I would expect even more improvement from him, as well as Austin. I would also mention Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith as great players for Duke, both’s resume reads well during their college careers. I agree Duke is slower and that Dawkins is here one game and gone for the next several, but I think as Duke fans we’ve become very spoiled to final fours, and when we don’t reach one it’s considered a down year by many, but again, that’s just not realistic.

  4. Jfann says:

    Great comments from the Duke fans out there that I have a lot respect for. Singler and Smith were signed in the 07. So I should have clarified that there have been no elite players outside Irving and Rivers in the last 4 “signing” classes.

    The point about getting knocked out in 07 then winning the national title is a good one. It’s certainly not panic time.

    And I don’t think Duke is going anywhere. As long as Coach K is there Duke is a 25 win team every year, but I’m looking at the last several years as well. The Blue Devils have benefited from some ACC programs really falling on hardtimes.

    I do think K has to modify his recruiting of the one and done candidates. In this day and age, it’s really difficult to win at the highest level without more of those type players.

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