Duke is facing its annual list of offseason questions – who stays, who goes – much earlier than anyone expected.
The Blue Devils started the season as a favorite to win its sixth national title but instead failed to make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
”Your mood is definitely down,” guard Luke Kennard said. ”You’re ashamed of another loss and the season being over. There’s definitely, definitely a quiet atmosphere.”
The second-seeded Blue Devils (28-9) lost to the seventh-seeded Gamecocks 88-81 , bringing an abrupt end to season that will be remembered for a relentless string of distractions and sideshows.
So now, Duke shifts into offseason mode, waiting to find out what its roster will look like in the fall.
Freshman Jayson Tatum is a likely one-and-done player, and Harry Giles could be one, too. Kennard could investigate his NBA options as well, after a sophomore season in which he averaged a team-best 19.5 points. Maybe guard Grayson Allen also turns pro after his distraction-filled junior year.
”I’ll start getting time to think about it, I guess,” Allen said. ”There hasn’t been any time for that or any of those thoughts in my head.”
What will linger for Duke fans are those memorable hiccups during the season, before South Carolina out-toughed the top-ranked team in the preseason and sent the Blue Devils to their earliest NCAA exit since their first-round loss to Mercer in 2014.
– Three key freshmen missed time at the beginning of the season with injuries. Giles, who had a third knee surgery in three years, was slowed all season and never reached the level of play that was expected of the nation’s No. 1 recruit.
– Allen received an indefinite suspension in December that ultimately lasted one game after he was caught tripping an opponent for the third time in a calendar year, then had every move the rest of the year critiqued on social media.
– Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski left the team for a month to have back surgery , handing the team over to assistant Jeff Capel , and near the end of his sabbatical deployed one of his oldest motivational tactics by briefly prohibiting his players from wearing Duke gear.
Despite all those interruptions, as Krzyzewski referred to them, the Blue Devils became the first team to win the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament with four wins in four days . And when they were asked about this season being defined by its unfulfilled potential, they pointed to that accomplishment as evidence to the contrary.
”I don’t know if I can say that, just because I think we were hitting our stride to end the year,” Allen said. ”That’s the only thing you can ask of a team.”
Indeed, that echoed a telling comment made by Krzyzewski as the Blue Devils began practice in October after Giles’ knee surgery. The coach pointed out that the goal was to have Duke at its best in March because ”the (national) championship is not going to be won in October and November” and because that was a legitimate goal, ”We’re going to try to conduct our season appropriately.”
They seemed to be on track, but after being derailed by the Gamecocks the focus is on next season.
AP Basketball Writer Aaron Beard in Greenville, South Carolina, contributed to this report.
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