Y’know, that 2015 Duke team really wasn’t so bad. Sure, Grayson Allen was on it. But Justise Winslow might be the most likable Duke player since Grant Hill, and Jahlil Okafor was pretty good back in those days before he got to the NBA, and it even felt OK to root for Mike Krzyzewski to win a title in the year he reached 1,000 victories. Really, Duke’s taken to the one-and-done era in a way that has made everyone hate fewer of its stars – and hate the program less as a result.
Until this year. Because – yeesh.
Let’s be clear: Duke is the most talented team in the country. Duke is playing terrific basketball entering the NCAA Tournament. Duke got a No. 2 seed but had a very legitimate argument for a No. 1. So yeah, Duke’s going to win it all. This is in no way an attempt to jinx the Blue Devils. Absolutely not. Nope, we’re all going to have to deal with Duke winning its sixth national title under Coach K via his most obnoxious team ever.
But wait, more obnoxious than the Danny Ferry teams of the late 1980s? More obnoxious than William Avery, Trajan Langdon and Shane Battier in 1999, when everyone seemed to be rooting for UConn? More obnoxious than Christian Laettner, than J.J. Redick, than Jon Scheyer?
Let us count the ways …
1. Grayson Allen. Oh, Grayson Allen.
This guy is the fourth-best player (yes, Amile Jefferson’s better) on the fifth-best team (by record) in its own conference, yet he has been the most discussed player in the country all season. Why? Well, he trips and stumbles into people all the time, he whines, he looks like Ted Cruz, he can only somewhat play point guard and he’s so dirty that his own coach suspended and demoted him.
Allen’s different from Ferry, Laettner and Redick – the holy trinity of hated Duke stars – because he’s just not as good. He was better last season, yes, but last year’s team was much worse. (And for what it’s worth, he was a bit overrated last year by most analytical measures.) He’s also different because he doesn’t have the full defense of his coach and fan base. If you’re a Duke fan who doesn’t think Allen crossed any lines at any point this year, then you’re a Duke fan who disagrees with Krzyzewski, which doesn’t happen because …
2. This Coach K story line is going to be out of control.
Krzyzewski took a leave of absence in January because of a back injury. The Blue Devils struggled a bit without him, losing three of their first five games under fill-in Jeff Capel. Duke then again faltered at the end of the regular season, only to win the ACC tournament. Despite all its talent, the pieces never quite fit – early injuries also played a role – and that means that a national title would earn plaudits such as “best work of Coach K’s career.”
Anthony Gruppuso, USA TODAY Sports
Look, the man is unquestionably the greatest college men’s basketball coach since John Wooden. He’s got a real argument as the greatest coach in any sport at any level ever. He doesn’t need this kind of poppycock legacy-builder. If anything, Coach K deserves the most credit for recruiting this insane roster, which reminds us that …
3. A No. 1 preseason team should never be considered an underdog.
In this era of one-and-done domination, we have learned that a team can underachieve or slip up early in the season because of a lack of experience. We’ve also learned that talent tends to win out. Yes, last year’s champ lacked the one-and-done types. But in general, we can count on their presence and their early slip-ups.
This Duke team was the consensus favorite before adding one more five-star recruit – Marques Bolden, who has barely played – to its fold during the offseason. That group got off to a pretty rough start because of injuries to Bolden, Jayson Tatum (now the team’s best player) and top recruit Harry Giles, which, by the way …
4. Harry Giles is going to take over a game finally, and we’re going to pretend its a miracle.
Giles, who was the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft two years ago but keeps getting hurt, has been building up his strength all season. He looked outstanding in the ACC semifinals against North Carolina, and he clearly has all the skills. He has a 20.4 Player Efficiency Rating and is basically averaging 14 and 14 per 40 minutes. He’s 6-11 with a 7-3 wingspan. So why can’t we just admit that this guy is great?
Mark Dolejs, USA TODAY Sports
Well, you just know he’s going to take over a key stretch of a key game during the tournament. And you just know someone is going to be compelled to point out how little he contributed while playing 11.9 minutes a game during the season. Don’t let yourself be impressed by the most talented player in the country showing off that talent, no matter how hurt he’s been most of the year. Besides, Giles probably won’t even be the most obnoxious Duke freshman, which brings us to …
5. Frank Jackson.
We knew this guy would be this year’s Tyus Jones during the second Florida State game, when he scored 22 points and Dick Vitale acted like he was the second coming of Jay Williams.
Jackson’s been a weird player all year, seemingly incapable of managing the point guard role he was needed for but also an explosive scorer. He’s the exact kind of guy who puts up 20 in both Final Four games and walks away with Most Outstanding Player, gets drafted in the first round and eventually becomes a trivia answer because his NBA career is so forgettable. That might happen to Duke’s best player for most of this season, too, lest we forget to mention …
6. Luke Kennard.
You know what? We like Luke Kennard. He’s really good and not particularly hatable, even though he is another in the long line of High-Strung White Duke Shooting Guards. Anything’s better than him being …
6. Grayson Allen.
Because he deserves two spots on this list. Really, he deserves all six. He’ll probably come back next year, but if he doesn’t, we’re leaving with this taste on our lips:
Grayson Allen, two-time NCAA champion.