Usually, the Duke Blue Devils spend the winter months beating up on ACC underachievers and proving themselves in nationally-televised contests against fellow post-season powers. On-court excellence has essentially become the status quo in Durham, and for outsiders, a trip to the college hoops mecca known as Cameron Indoor Stadium is rarely a pleasant experience.
But lately, times have been a little tougher than expected for the 17th-ranked Blue Devils. The unpleasant odor of entitlement reattached itself to Duke about three seconds after guard Grayson Allen was crowned as the game’s dirtiest player. With head coach Mike Krzyzewski temporarily out of action, backup bench-boss Jeff Capel has guided Duke to an unacceptable 2-3 despite taking over a team that won 13 of its first 15 games. And most recently, Duke dropped its first home game to North Carolina State in 22 years in Monday’s 84-82 shocker.
Faithful followers of Blue Devil basketball will argue that last year’s team encountered a similar mid-winter slide. Last January, Duke suffered a five-point loss to Clemson despite strutting into South Carolina with just two losses on its resume, but that loss was just the beginning for the Blue Devils who would go on to lose each of their next two games to Notre Dame and Syracuse—both at home, before eventually losing at Miami for their fourth loss in five games.
That team reached last season’s Sweet 16 before losing to Oregon and finishing a very respectable 25-11. But Coach K’s absence, Allen’s antics, and good old fashion inconsistency have combined to sew the seeds of doubt about this season’s squad. And at 3-4 in the conference, Duke’s doubters have even dared to wonder if the Blue Devils are in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995.
After dropping consecutive contests at no.6 Florida State and 13th-ranked Louisville earlier this month, Capel was forced to stray from Coach K’s latest preferred starting five in order to avoid a third straight loss midway through last week’s badly-needed win over Miami. Ultimately, Capel’s tinkering worked, and while the Blue Devils lost their very next game to N.C. State, senior forward Amile Jefferson was confident that his team has what it’ll take to improve following Duke’s win over Miami.
“We have eight guys that can start at any point, and we have eight guys that are starters or at least see themselves that way,” said Jefferson. “That should be the beauty of our team. Once heart, effort and defense becomes who we are, we’ll skyrocket. We’ll get better really fast.”
Outside of college basketball big-shots like Duke, Kentucky, and Kansas, losing three of four and owning a record of 15-5 isn’t reason for panic. However, losses poison the brand of any program preaching perennial excellence, and Allen’s consistently questionable on-court behavior has magnified Duke’s recent difficulties while giving rival fans another reason to despise the Blue Devils.
Seemingly determined to surpass Christian Laettner as the most widely hated player in Duke’s history, Allen began his collegiate career as a high-flying scorer with decent range and an undeniable passion. As we now know, not even his offensive abilities have been enough to overshadow Allen’s well-deserved reputation as a cheap-shot artist after kicking, tripping and shoving several opponents.
In December, Allen earned an “indefinite” suspension for tripping Elon’s Steven Santa Ana, and it appeared as though Duke, and specifically Krzyzewski, had finally had enough. With several obvious incidents under his belt that both the NCAA and Duke had already let slide, Allen definitely deserved to ride the pine.
“It’s a learning experience,” Krzyzewski told listeners of The Dan Patrick Show. “I’m going to use it as that, as a teaching moment. And a teaching moment does not stop by giving one game. Or maybe that’s what it is. I don’t know that right now.”
Apparently, “indefinite” does mean only one game in Durham, and Coach K allowed Allen to return after essentially giving him a night off for the Blue Devil’s New Year’s Eve loss at Virginia Tech.
Returning Allen to the starting five may have made Krzyzewski feel more confident about leaving Capel at the controls, but lifting the suspension so quickly has only added to Allen’s reputation as a privileged player who keeps getting away with what ever he wants.
Throughout the first few months of this season, sophomore sharp-shooter Luke Kennard has replaced Allen as the team’s top offensive threat, and the play of Kennard, Jefferson, and Jason Tatum will determine Duke’s destiny—not Allen. But until either Krzyzewski, the University, or NCAA actually does something about Allen’s antics, he’ll remain the game’s most hated distraction and the Blue Devils will continue to pay the price.
Rick Barnes Says He Would Have Left Tennessee if UCLA Paid Buyout
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes could have been the next head coach for UCLA, instead of Mick Cronin, if only the Bruins were willing to open up their wallets.
Barnes says that if UCLA would have promised to pay Barnes’ $5 million buyout, he would have left Tennessee to take the job at UCLA.
“I think I would’ve been the coach at UCLA,” Barnes said (h/t ESPN). “I’ve said that to people before. I really felt at that time that’s what would happen.”
Barnes was honest and open with his decision process during the news conference, saying that he struggled with making a final decision due to financial matters.
Barnes has since agreed to a new deal with Tennessee that will pay him $4 million per year before increasing to a $6 million annual sum by the end of the contract and provide more cash for his assistants.
“I’m supposed to be at Tennessee,” Barnes said. “And it’s really above and beyond the basketball program. I’m in love with this community. I’m in love with this state. I just think we got a lot of great things going on in this town.”
“A lot of praying went into it, I can tell you that,” Barnes said. “There was a lot going on. When you get down to a situation like that, it has to make sense from a financial standpoint. Bottom line is we couldn’t work it out with the buyout.”
Barnes also informed UCLA that he would not depart Knoxville without talking to athletic director Phillip Fulmer and others in the community.
I told them point blank, ‘I’m not going to walk out of here and not meet with my team,'” Barnes said. “‘I’m not going to walk out of here and not meet with people here that have been really good to me.’ … I said, ‘You just can’t say send a plane tomorrow and we’re leaving. I’m going to make sure this is done the right way.'”
“There was one time in my mind I truly felt that’s what would happen,” Barnes said about potentially taking the UCLA offer. “It got to that point where I felt like my prayers had been answered.”
The Madness is Underway
As we inch closer to selection Sunday, many conference tournaments are underway finding teams who will automatically make the NCAA Men’s basketball. Here are the teams that currently in the tournament:
Atlantic Sun: Liberty
Big South: Gardner–Webb
Horizon: Northern Kentucky
Missouri Valley: Bradley
MEC: Fairleigh Dickinson
Ohio Valley: Murray State
Summit League: North Dakota State
Summit League: Saint Marry’s
Out of the 32 conferences with automatic bids in the tournament, 12 of them have been clinched. All the until selection Sunday the remaining 20 conferences will have their tickets punched. Who will that be? Stay tuned!
Tennessee Basketball Ranked 4th In (Early) Preseason Top 25
A school built on football lure now has a thriving basketball team to get behind. In a early CBS basketball poll, the Volunteer squad is ranked 4th in the preseason. This should bring relief to a fan base whose struggled with a lackluster football team in recent years.
Under Coach Rick Barnes (SEC Coach of the year 2017) the Vols went 26-9 last year, won a share of the regular season SEC title and reached the final of the SEC tournament. Tennessee should return most of their pivotal pieces for the 2018-19 season.
Admiral Schofield (2017-2018 ALL SEC second teamer) who tested the NBA waters has returned for his senior year to play along side Grant Williams (SEC player of the year) and Kyle Alexander. If they can stay healthy along with the supporting cast, this team has a legitimate chance to reach the final four.
According to Andy Katz, “Tennessee is the team to beat in the SEC this year,” and did I mention Coach Barnes recruiting is nothing to take lightly. Recently committed 5 star combo guard, Josiah James added his name to the class of 2019 and pushed the Vols recruiting into the top 10 nationally.
Although it’s too early to tell how this season will play out its certain the hype is warranted and reaching heights it hasn’t seen since the Bruce Pearl era.
Could it be!? Tennessee – a basketball school?
Follow the journey when the Volunteers tip off against Louisiana Lafayette on November 9th.
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