Which Duke team will show up in Chapel Hill?
Having a bunch of one-and-dones can be tricky, as Duke and Kentucky have found out since they began the practice wholesale eight or nine years ago. It works for the kids – who all get drafted after their one obligatory year in college – but not so much for their schools, which don’t always win NCAA titles.
Trying to build championship chemistry with mostly new players every season, no matter how talented they may be, is not easy. Kids on a stop-over to the NBA are thinking about their draft status, how high they will go, how much money they will make.
This season, Duke is the poster team for that conundrum.
The Blue Devils are coming to Carolina Thursday night with four freshmen in their starting lineup who might be in the top 14 or 15 picks. They have lost at N.C. State and they have lost at home to Virginia, a well-coached team without any first-round draftees.
Saturday, they lost to St. John’s at Madison Square Garden, which is every bit Duke’s home court because of its massive alumni base in the Northeast. But St. John’s was on an 11-game losing streak and is 0-10 in the Big East Conference. Mike Krzyzewski was livid afterward, using words like “disgusted,” “horrible,” “stunk,” and saying he could not get his team’s attention for the first 32 minutes of the game.
So what does Coach K do? Normally, when a performance like this is turned in by college kids, he will play the Duke card and say they don’t deserve to wear the uniform; he might strip the locker room of all championship memorabilia, replace their cushy seats with metal folding chairs, take the fancy name plates off the lockers and put up white tape with their numbers only.
But, after 43 years of coaching, Krzyzewski should know the difference between disciplining players who have drunk the Duke Kool-Aid and have become true members of his basketball family and student body, not one-year rentals. So he will have to be careful how he prepares them for the Tar Heels.
Duke has the size and talent to blow Carolina out, even in the Smith Center. But if Coach K goes nuts on them, several of these ballyhooed one-and-dones might look at him like he actually is nuts and start thinking more about where they will be next year than this season. If he does, and Carolina plays well in their first rivalry game, it could be another upset loss for the Blue Devils.