Duke started another season at No. 1 but ended it before the Final Four. Now the Blue Devils await the NBA draft decisions from several potential one-and-done freshmen with next year’s top recruiting class arriving over the summer.
The Blue Devils started four freshmen and it is unclear if all have played their final game at Duke. In the locker room after the season-ending loss to Kansas, point guard Trevon Duval made it sound like at least some had. He expressed sadness that this particular group of players won’t play together again.
“It was a great season. I had a lot of fun, but every good thing has to come to an end sometime,” Duval said. “I’m just happy that I got to play with this group of guys and to play for (coach Mike Krzyzewski) and be a part of this program.”
An 85-81 overtime loss to Kansas in the Midwest Regional final brought an end to the season for Duke (29-8), and to the four-year college career of captain Grayson Allen.
Duke knows it won’t have Allen next year, with the Kansas loss bringing to an end a turbulent career that included a national championship as a freshman and a series of tripping incidents over the next two years that sullied his reputation. Allen’s jumper at the end of regulation that would have sent the Blue Devils to the Final Four bounced off the glass and off the rim but refused to fall through.
“I’ve learned so much in my four years here, coming out a completely different person and for the better,” Allen said.
Now the question is how many of the freshmen will follow him out the Cameron Indoor Stadium doors. Big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr., and guards Duval and Gary Trent Jr. have big decisions to make in the coming weeks.
“This is all that’s on my mind right now, thinking about this year that I had with my brothers,” Bagley said after the game. “And whatever happens after this, we’ll sit down and talk about it and just take it day by day.”
No matter how many of them opt to enter the NBA draft, the Blue Devils have another batch of five-star freshmen coming in next season.
Duke has the nation’s best recruiting class locked up for 2018-19. Forwards R.J. Barrett and Cameron Reddish have already signed letters of intent, forward Zion Williamson has publicly declared his intention to play for the Blue Devils and Tre Jones — the younger brother of Tyus Jones, the one-and-done point guard on Duke’s last national championship team in 2015 — also has signed.
That group could have the Blue Devils starting next season in the same spot as the previous two years — atop the preseason Top 25.
The challenge is finding a way to end it in the same position.
That was tougher than expected for this Duke team, which had one of the nation’s most potent offenses, ranking ninth nationally with an average of 84 points. The biggest change took place on defense, with the Blue Devils making the midseason switch to a full-time 2-3 zone after the freshman-dominated team had trouble playing Krzyzewski’s preferred man-to-man style.
Duke finished second in the Atlantic Coast Conference, four full games behind a Virginia team that claimed the No. 1 ranking in the final AP poll. The Blue Devils lost to rival North Carolina in the ACC Tournament semifinals, and reached their third regional final in six years.
For most programs, that’s a pretty good year. But it felt a bit unsatisfying for the Blue Devils, who wanted so much more.
“It hurts,” Carter said. “We fought, we crawled, we scratched — we did everything we could.”
More AP college basketball: https://collegebasketball.ap.org ; https://twitter.com/AP_Top25 and https://www.podcastone.com/ap-sports-special-events