For decades, the Duke men’s basketball program has elicited either respect and adoration or visceral revulsion. Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s self-replenishing army of floor-slappin’ Wojos hustled their way to multiple national championships and dared you to love or hate them along the way. Tough, talented, and smug, the Blue Devils were the rich campers from across the lake. You knew what you were getting every year.
But this Duke team is different. Thanks to their exciting freshman stars, the Blue Devils are fun and a little unpredictable. Fans raised on Bobby Hurley and J.J. Redick may not know what to do with the NCAA Tournament’s overall No. 1 seed. There’s a chance you’ll even find yourself rooting for them! These are confusing times, and this guide will help you cope with the various opinions you may form about Duke this month.
1. This is the most likable Duke team ever.
Familiarity breeds contempt, and so it makes sense that the reviled Blue Devils squads of yore were packed with four-year players like Christian Laettner and Shelden Williams. You just got sick of seeing those guys, which is something you can’t say about Duke’s current batch of stars. While an absence of hate doesn’t necessarily make something “likable,” these freshmen play fast, loose, and above the rim. Zion Williamson, the charming talisman of this young Duke team, plays like a roadhouse bouncer blessed with the gift of flight, and every one of his games is appointment viewing.
2. This Duke team is actually plenty hateable, thank you very much.
Williamson hurt his knee in a cobbling mishap late in the season, and Duke struggled for consistency in his absence. Neutral fans were the real losers during that stretch, however, because without Zion, Duke played like a run-of-the-mill, off-year Blue Devils team (with worse shooting). It wasn’t very fun.
Although they may not have a transcendent pest like Grayson Allen, this vintage of Duke can still be plenty annoying. Krzyzewski is as dour as ever on the sidelines, and junior forwards Javin DeLaurier and Jack White form a decent Plumlee tribute band.
3. This Duke team is the best men’s college basketball team ever.
They have the best recruiting class ever, but that’s more a matter of fact than it is an opinion. This Duke team will need to win the national title to have an argument for “best team ever,” but a dominant run would put them in the conversation.
4. This Duke team isn’t even the best college basketball team in the country.
Are we really supposed to believe that Duke will leapfrog the 1972 UCLA Bruins when they couldn’t even beat Syracuse at home? (Yes, Reddish missed that game and Jones sat out most of it. But still, Syracuse.) The Blue Devils don’t even have the best record in their conference, and their subpar 3-point shooting and over-reliance on Williamson could make them a vulnerable No. 1 seed.
5. This Duke team shows why Coach K is a genius.
When Elton Brand entered the NBA after his sophomore year in 1999, he became the first Duke player to declare early for the draft. The Blue Devils’ lack of one-and-done talent earned them plenty of love from aging sports fans and nostalgic members of the press. But plaudits don’t win national championships, and Krzyzewski has adjusted to this new era of college basketball with aplomb. It’s not easy to change, but he’s mastered this new approach better than all his rivals—including coaches who got massive head starts, like Kentucky’s John Calipari.
6. This Duke team shows why Coach K is in decline.
How are you going to lose five games with all that talent? Come on, Mike.
7. This Duke team is the future of basketball.
Four of Duke’s five starters are capable of bringing the ball up the floor, and they’re making NBA-style position-free basketball work in college. Krzyzewski didn’t just recruit the best high schoolers: He brought in versatile players who can fit this fluid system, and that’s why the Blue Devils are at the forefront of the game’s evolution.
8. This Duke team is a relic that plays an archaic form of basketball.
As a team, Duke shoots 30.2 percent from 3-point range. That ranks 339th in Division 1 , and it’s the lowest average of any tournament-bound school. Duke’s players are interchangeable in that none of them can shoot, and the Blue Devils truly are at the forefront of hitting the rim.
9. This Duke team could blow out the New York Knicks.
That’s idiotic. Duke would win at the buzzer.