The Duke Blue Devils entered the NCAA Tournament with a National Championship on their minds. With Zion Williamson leading the way, the nation was waiting for Duke to cut down the nets on April 8.
They'd been waiting for nearly a year, in fact.
Michigan State had other plans, however, as they stunned Duke on Sunday to advance to the Final Four. Now, one of college hoops' most prominent super teams of the one-and-done era was sent home by Michigan State during the Elite 8, a team that, outside of Cassius Winston, doesn't exactly rely on NBA talent.
With four 5-star freshmen on his roster, two of whom are guaranteed top-five picks in the upcoming NBA Draft, head coach Mike Krzyzewski simply couldn't get the job done. And any other attempt at framing this is disingenuous.
Mike Krzyzewski couldn't take a team with four 5-star freshmen, including a generational talent, to the Final Four.— 12up (@12upSport) March 31, 2019
Just think about it: almost every sports media pundit and basketball fan had Duke winning it all in their March Madness bracket. Many of those same people thought the Blue Devils, Williamson, and R.J. Barrett would steamroll their way throughout the tournament with relative ease.
That wasn't the case, most of which had to do with Krzyzewski's coaching scheme. In fact, they didn't have a single "elite" game out of the four they played on the biggest stage.
Mike Krzyzewski had the most talented team in America (by a good margin) and almost lost in the second and third rounds and then failed to make the Final Four with them. If you're going to crap on John Calipari for underachieving, rack up K too.— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_ATH) March 31, 2019
In the Round of 32, the UCF Knights gave them a run for their money, as 7-6 center Tacko Fall stood as a formidable challenge against Duke. Luckily for the Blue Devils, Fall would foul out, and Aubrey Dawkins' final layup attempt would (barely) fail. Without a bit of rim luck, the Blue Devils would've spent 40 full minutes failing to game plan for Fall's presence, or adjust to the reality of his size.
Then there was the Sweet 16, where they were pushed around by the Virginia Tech Hokies. Again, fate was on Duke's side, as yet another layup gaffe in the final seconds allowed them to advance.
Even Williamson and Barrett openly admitted that luck was on their side, and they were puzzled that Virginia Tech didn't tie things up with a bunny as the buzzer went off.
With the amount of talent on this Duke team, they should not have had this difficult of a time in the NCAA Tournament. Krzyzewski's game plan was flawed throughout, and Tom Izzo took advantage of it. Nowhere was this better exemplified than on the final few sequences. Down two, with the ball, shots repeatedly went to RJ Barrett, who is not Zion Williamson and never will be. We thought we'd solved this once and for all late against UCF. We were so wrong.
Duke lost three games with Zion Williamson in the lineup this year.— Rodger Sherman (@rodger) March 31, 2019
RJ Barrett went ***0-for-9*** in the final minute of those three games. The rest of the team had three total shots. Zion had one.
And, in one final taunt, with 4.7 seconds remaining and a few fouls necessary for Duke to get MSU into the bonus, Coach K somehow forgot to protect against Cassius Winston's breakaway speed. Like the Miami Miracle, with Gronk as the last line of defense, this was purely deficient.
If there is anyone to blame for Duke's failed tourney run, it's Mike Krzyzewski. Full stop. There's no reason we should be here right now.