Team of the 2000s: #4 – Duke

Posted by nvr1983 on August 17th, 2009


Ed. Note: Check the category team of the 2000s for our other entries in this feature.

As we mentioned in our earlier “Team of the 2000s” posts, we felt that the top-tier programs fell into a few clear clusters. There was some debate amongst the RTC braintrust about where certain teams fell within those clusters so we can understand if you disagree with where a team is ranked (that’s what the comment section is for). Teams in the top five either have made it to every NCAA tournament this decade (a sign of at least being respectable every season) or have a 2nd championship to bolster their case.

#4 – Duke


Overview. This will be the most controversial selection on the list because it is Duke. Love them or hate them (and I’m pretty sure that most college basketball fans hate them), the Blue Devils remain the standard that other programs are judged against. That is not to say that they are the best program of the decade (there are still three teams ahead of them), but much like the New York Yankees, who are experiencing a similar title “drought,” every fanbase judges their success against what the guys in Durham are doing. To be completely honest, I ranked Duke lower than any of the other voters, but in the end their consistency (particularly during the regular season) won out and put them ahead of some of the other elite programs. The case for Duke being ranked above the teams below it in our countdown: 82.6% (regular season winning percentage–Gonzaga is the only other team to crack 80% and they don’t play in the ACC); 7 post-season and 4 regular season ACC titles (just an absurd number when you are competing against UNC although UNC’s inconsistency helped inflate this); 10 NCAA tournament trips (look at the above summary to see how often many excellent programs have missed the NCAA tournament this decade); 8 Sweet 16 appearances (maybe Duke hasn’t been that successful during the 2nd weekend, but they have gotten there more than anybody else); and 1 national title (more on this in a bit). The case against the Blue Devils? I alluded to it earlier, as Coach K’s teams have struggled mightily in the NCAA second weekend making it to the Final 4 “just” two out of the eight times they made it to the Sweet 16. In addition, Duke’s absence of a 2nd title prevents it from claiming a spot in the top 3. Out of the team’s below it, Tom Izzo‘s Michigan State Spartans have the best argument, but Duke’s vastly superior winning percentage (82.6% vs. 72.1%) and huge edge in conference titles combined with playing in a better conference (the ACC may be down, but you never see an abomination like this come out of the ACC) and NCAA-best 8 trips to the Sweet 16 (versus 6 for the Spartans) are just enough to make up for Michigan State’s edge in Final 4 appearances (4-2 although both teams were only able to seal the deal once).

battier j-will duhon

Pinnacle. As it is with any team that won a single title this decade, the choice here is simple: the 2001 title. After coming up just short with one of the most talented teams in recent history in 1999, Coach K reloaded with a class featuring Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy Jr., and Carlos Boozer. Although not quite as dominant as the group that left just before they came in (Elton Brand, William Avery, and Corey Maggette – I know he was a year after the other two, but I wasn’t going to include Chris Burgess in there), the former was able to do something the latter failed to do – win a title.  Together with Shane Battier, who led the Blue Devils emotionally and in taking flops, this group made it to the Sweet 16 in 2000 before being upset by Florida. The following year the Blue Devils were able to give Coach K his 3rd title, but not before surviving three marginally tough games (vs. USC in the Elite 8, vs. Maryland in the national semifinals, and vs. Arizona in the championship game) to claim the title. The defining moment of that title game was Dunleavy Jr.’s 3-point barrage (three 3-pointers during an 11-2 run) that re-established Duke’s control of the game. One thing that will stick with Blue Devil fans forever though is their four games against Maryland, which were some of the best college basketball games you will ever see, the most memorable being the 10-point comeback in the last minute at College Park (although we are willing to debate with someone who argues that the 22-point comeback in the national semifinals might be better).

[Warning: Maryland fans may want to avoid this video.]

Tailspin. Other than the two UNC titles? The 2006-07 season. A rather mediocre Duke team went 22-11 in a season that included two separate four-game losing streaks. The latter of those losing streaks came to finish the season with the final insult coming courtesy of Eric Maynor and VCU. Much has been made on this site and others about the lack of elite talent in Durham lately, but fielding a team whose four best players were DeMarcus Nelson (junior),  Josh McRoberts (sophomore), Greg Paulus (sophomore), and Jon Scheyer (freshman)… you are in big trouble. The primary explanation for this was that outside of Shelden Williams and J.J. Redick, the Blue Devils had a long string of McDonald’s All-American busts from 2002 on, with Shavlik Randolph, who left prior to that, being the most famous example.

Outlook for the 2010s: Grade: B+. Duke is still Duke and can land 5-star recruits, but it’s not like it was at the end of the last decade when Duke had its choice of McDonald’s All-Americans. Back then, one of the big controversies was if Coach K made the right choice taking Mike Dunleavy Jr. instead of Casey Jacobsen (for the younger generation of readers trust us when we say they were both actually very good college basketball players). Now it is a big deal when Duke lands the #3 shooting guard in next year’s class instead of John Wall. Duke will still be able to get a couple of top-notch recruits every year because of their tradition (it goes back to before Coach K, youngsters), Notre Dame-like TV deal with ESPN, Coach K’s stature, and the fact that it’s one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the country (mothers like to brag about the Duke degree even if it is for the infamous Sociology major). However, the Blue Devils have fallen a notch below UNC in the hearts and minds of elite recruits and that will only get worse when Coach K retires (gasp!) as their is no clear successor in line for his throne.

nvr1983 (1398 Posts)

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9 responses to “Team of the 2000s: #4 – Duke”

  1. tallguy says:

    “infamous Sociology major”

    Please don’t bring up that bullshit, sociology is the home of the markets and management certificate, which is the closest thing to a business degree Duke has (the Wall Street recruits are from the econ department, which has about as much to do with business as art history does). The easiest degrees at Duke are art history, women’s studies, and african studies.

  2. nvr1983 says:

    I was referring to the criticism of the major that Jason Williams and Carlos Boozer picked up in 3 years not the department as a whole. I don’t have anything against either of those guys and many Duke basketball players have pursued the degree (Google “Jon Siegel Not So Royal Blue Washington Times” for more stuff about it), but I’m pretty sure that those guys weren’t taking classes on black swans (apparently the guys at Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers didn’t either). (On a related note, I picked up my undergrad degree in 3 years, which I will readily admit is a joke, but the 2 degrees I have after that sort of make up for it.) I have talked to Duke students who say the major that the basketball players pick up is basically a joke not unlike the “General Studies” I see many players at other schools pursuing. Obviously Duke has some “student-athletes” who fit the example that the NCAA likes to portray such as Shane Battier, who probably has his name right next to the phrase in Roget’s, and Trajan Langdon, but much like Notre Dame I think people attach too much weight to a school’s overall academic reputation when talking about how brilliant their players are.

  3. Tommy says:

    Was that video necessary??? Whatever, I just watched the end of the 2004 ACC Tourney Championship game. The little crying Dookie was the icing on the effing cake.

  4. nvr1983 says:

    I included the warning in bold just before the clip. You can’t blame me if you clicked on it anyways.

  5. mg says:

    Having trouble getting recruits?!? Duke is in the running or perceived to be leading for Irving, a top ten PG and Barnes, considered the top recruit in the country. In this incoming class Kelly and Plumlee are widely considered top 20 or top 10 recruits. Your jumping the gun just a bit on your theory that Duke doesn’t recruit well anymore. Plus, Dawkins is a top 20 or 10 recruit, who just happens to be the #3 shooting guard because the other 2 SG in front of him are top 10 recruits as well.

  6. nvr1983 says:

    I’m not sure where I said they are having trouble getting recruits, but they certainly aren’t getting the same caliber of recruits that they got a decade ago. Now it may be unrealistic to be that ridiculously good, but at Duke there is that expectation.

    On the 2010 recruits:
    – Barnes and Irving have lists of 10-12 schools right now. Even if Duke is the favorite I’d hardly consider that a done deal especially after what happened with Greg Monroe at Georgetown’s Midnight Madness a few years ago.

    On Dawkins:
    – I’m not seeing where you are going with this shooting guard ranking argument. By my math, even if the position rankings are evenly split (and they usually aren’t because there are so few quality centers–meaning there is heavier weighting for guards/forwards) then you would expect Dawkins to be in the #11-15 range, which last time I checked is top 20 (borderline top 10). Obviously this varies a little depending on the the relatives strengths of the different positions each year, but it’s not like I was referring to a guy as “the #3 QB prospect in the nation” when he was actually the #5 overall recruit. In this case, I think it was a pretty fair description.

  7. Schneider says:

    Ok, Duke has Seth curry with 3 years of eligibility, almost got John Wall(they still are capable of getting those type of recruits), Coach K is relatively young, and they have 2 prominent assistants and Jonny Dawkins as an alumni with college coaching experience. The future deserves atleast an A-

  8. rtmsf says:

    The last true John Wall type of recruit Duke got was Luol Deng in 2003. Coincidentally, the last F4 Duke sniffed was his freshman (and only) year in Durham, 2004. I believe that’s what the poster is referring to here.

  9. jtruman37 says:

    Let’s not overlook the fact that high school rankings are adjusted often, & often adjusted once a kid declares for a particular school. Further, coaches & universities do a lot of politicing for their guys to become McDonalds All Americans. For example, Ben Gordon was not a highly sought after recruit, in terms of national ranking. It was b/c he didn’t attend the “right” summer camps & so on. It makes sense. I suppose those that rank the recruits need to base their assessments on what they see. But Ben Gordon was a better player, from day 1, than any guard Duke has had, save for J-WIll (& spare me the argument about JJ, “One Trick Pony” Reddick).

    My point is that arguing player rankings & which schools get how many guys between X & Y in a particular set of rankings is little more than fodder for the message boards. Duke gets plenty of All Americans, that is not the problem. The problem is that many of the “All Americans” Duke gets just don’t really pan out.

    Some trends: Duke has been largely harmless outside of the ACC. I’m not begrudging the ACC, it’s right @ the top, in terms of conferences, but it’s one thing when you’re successful against the guys you see all the time. But a team needs to compete across conferences, & develop a style that can win regardless of opponent or venue. To me that is where Duke has come to fall short.

    I say blame the system. It’s evolved into a gimmic. There hasn’t been a post prescience in Durham since Carlos Boozer. & before him it was Elton Brand. That’s two guys in 10 seasons. & zero guys in the past.., what, 8 seasons..? I don’t think Coach K is necessarily slipping as a recruiter. I think his system is failing him. I think he’s slipping b/c of the system. He’s like the mad scientist who’s slaving away in his lab, feverishly trying to do it “his way”, trying to recreate Laettner, & he’ll show the rest of us. Meanwhile, the system is not attractive to bigs, b/c it doesn’t reward them, doesn’t feature them. & in case you haven’t been looking, the basketball players of today are getting much bigger, & rebounding is kind of an important part of the game.

    & that’s essentially why I think we should, collectively, stop drinking the Kool Aid. What has Coach K managed to do lately, apart from win a Gold Medal w/ the best players on the planet? Interesting coincidence, too, that he has chosen to stick w/ the Team USA job. Winning feels good, I know. & K won’t be cutting any nets down, on the college level, any time soon. Or, I’ll have to see it to believe it, we’ll say.

    Stephan Curry’s brother is not Stephan Curry. Genes don’t count just b/c their similar. Michael Jordan has two sons, whoopty doo. I’ll believe these Plumlees when I see them. Until then I’m thinking Josh McRoberts, or any number of the Duke “big men” who’s names are escaping me.

    I think slowly we’re starting to see through the polished Duke facade to see it isn’t the program it was 10 years ago. & without alteration in style of play, without changing to fit a changing sport, who knows how far things could slip. Coach K has already planned his exit strategy. He’s already secured another job. Maybe he sees the writing on the walls too.

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