Why Duke basketball's future looks bright, despite an early loss in the NCAA Tournament

Steve Wiseman, The News & Observer on

Published in Basketball

DURHAM, N.C. — Long and lanky, Dereck Lively stretched out in a chair in front of his locker inside Orlando's Amway Center Saturday night staring ahead, lost in thought.

Still wearing his Duke No. 1 jersey, the 7-1 center was still absorbing the abrupt end to his freshman — and likely only — season with the Blue Devils.

"This isn't what all came here for," Lively said after Tennessee ousted Duke, 65-52, in the NCAA Tournament East Region second round. "We came here to get farther than this. I'm just glad me and my brothers are together to this point. I'm sad we didn't get to where we wanted but it was a great year. We learned a lot. We all grew up."

That sums up the first season of the rest of Duke's basketball life, the first season without Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski since the 1979-80 campaign. Former Duke player and assistant coach Jon Scheyer replaced Krzyzewski as head coach, steering the Blue Devils through a season with painful lows, but also joyous highs.

There were painful, one-sided losses — a 75-56 loss to Purdue, a 84-60 pounding at N.C. State, and a 81-59 defeat at Miami, just to name three. Duke fell out of the Associated Press Top 25 in January and didn't return until March, the kind of slippage not normally associated with the Blue Devils.

Injuries along the way, in preseason, the regular season and the postseason, to Lively, Dariq Whitehead, Jeremy Roach and Mark Mitchell complicated Scheyer's first season.


Yet, a new banner will be placed in Cameron Indoor Stadium's rafters to remember this season after Duke won the ACC championship. The Blue Devils went 16-0 at home. They swept rival North Carolina in their two regular-season games, two impactful dents in the Tar Heels' resume that led to them becoming the first preseason No. 1 team to miss the NCAA Tournament since its 1985 expansion to 64 teams.

Mixed emotions, mixed results

Duke played its best basketball at the end of the season, riding a 10-game winning streak into Saturday's game with Tennessee.

"We've had, really, a great season," Scheyer said Saturday, "and it's hard to reflect on all of that right now, in the moment. I'm hurting for these guys. They've given us everything you could ask for. They've fought through adversity. They've stuck together when things weren't looking as good and came into this game one of the hottest teams in the country. We felt like we were supposed to win this game."


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