That's a Wrap: Duke Bows to Kansas in the Elite Eight | Sports
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Monday, March 26, 2018

That's a Wrap: Duke Bows to Kansas in the Elite Eight

Posted by on Mon, Mar 26, 2018 at 2:25 PM

Well, that was unpleasant. Following forty-five minutes of back-and-forth play between two remarkably well-matched adversaries, Duke's season ended with a run to the Elite Eight and an overtime loss to a number-one seeded Kansas team that stayed neck and neck with the Blue Devils’ surfeit of thoroughbred talent. The Jayhawks were saved when Grayson Allen's last-second shot in regulation seemed to hit every possible surface but the net—and were also aided by a very shaky blocking call against Wendell Carter in overtime—but ultimately Duke did plenty to lose on their own.

Faced with a well-coached and confident team in Kansas, all the seams showed on a mostly freshman-led Blue Devils squad. An inexplicably flat opening to the second half mirrored periodic lapses in interest that had plagued the team during recent losses to UNC and Virginia Tech. The team was dominated on the offensive boards and forced into foul trouble. The Jayhawks got way too many wide-open looks against the Blue Devils’ zone and ultimately made nine threes in the second half and overtime. All of this, and Duke still had a chance to win with the ball in their hands and seconds remaining.

This Blue Devils—pregnant with expectation and lauded as the national championship favorite—had so many wonderful moments throughout the season. In terms of pure, elite athleticism, it will rank with the best collections of talent in the school's storied history. Watching freshman stars Marvin Bagley, Gary Trent, Wendell Carter, and Travon Duval gradually coalesce into a frequently devastating war machine was reminiscent of nothing less than the improvisational grandeur of the original Fab Five. Witnessing Grayson Allen dutifully attempt to find his rightful place amid so many prodigious usurpers was a frustrating but ultimately satisfying narrative for the never-boring senior. Even Coach K adjusted to the excitement, shockingly switching to a Boeheim-inspired two-three zone midseason and making it work (until it didn't).

There were fits and starts and long stretches of aggravating basketball. But you could see it all coming together. This disparate collection of unique talents would eventually find a way to sublimate their egos and become a dominating team for the ages. It seems impossible that this team-on-the-brink will never have the opportunity to take the floor for a second act. But there won't be any. It's all over now, Prussian Blue.

The NBA's so-called one-and-done rule requires potential draftees to spend at least a year out of high school before becoming eligible. It's a mean-spirited rule based on a disproved premise that may, in fact, be in direct conflict with labor law. It's likely to change soon. In the meantime, we court situations like the current one, in which the four prized freshmen that comprise the team’s best talent will all be leaving for the NBA draft. While it will be exciting to watch Marvin, Wendell, Gary, and Travon go in the first round, it's profoundly jarring for both those within the program and those following it.

Anyone able to get themselves drafted by the NBA out of high school ought to have the right to do so. The one-and-done rule, supposedly a remedy for players overestimating their value and declaring themselves draft-eligible before they are physically or mentally prepared, is no kind of solution at all. At best, it makes for a disjointed fan experience akin to replacing an entire cast of a television show following an exciting first season. At worst, it creates the sort of petri dish for corruption we saw play out at the University of Arizona and countless other programs across the country in recent years. When college basketball is simply a mandatory one-year stop on the way to getting paid, it is all but inevitable that trouble will follow. Eventually, under the current system, it's even likely to make its way to Durham.

As a team, of course, Duke will be fine. They have already essentially found replacements for their four outgoing freshmen in the form of an astounding recruiting class that includes Zion Williamson, Tre Jones, Cam Reddish, and R.J. Barrett. They will once again enter next season as one of the favorites to win a national championship, and it will once again be fascinating to watch Coach K and his staff work to assemble a durable tapestry from priceless materials. For a program that has long relied on veteran leadership and a ceremonial passing of the baton from generation to generation, it is a different way of doing business. Coach K has done what he had to do to adapt, but sometimes you sense the strain. One doesn't exactly associate Krzyzewski with fun, but to the extent that he derives pleasure from his genius, one imagines it comes from teaching and not recruiting. If you have the same job for thirty-six years, it's likely to change, and it has, arguably not for the better.

So that's a wrap. We'll see you again next fall with a whole new cast of characters and a whole new set of storylines. By then the sting of what-could-have-been will have hopefully abated, and we can get back to the business of trying to raise another banner. In the meantime, we wish the very best to our outstanding future pros. Gentlemen: thanks for the too-brief memories. Go easy, step lightly, and stay free.

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