I'm a UNC fan. I don't like Duke. I don't like Coach K. I loved watching VCU come from behind to win last night's game, leaving Duke one-and-done for the first time since 1996.
That being said, I think the criticism reigning down on the Blue Devils is a bit unfair. As usual, I'm calling for some rationality.
We knew coming into the season that the team wasn't going to be up to par with past Duke teams. The AP ranked them 12th in their preseason poll; ESPN/USA Today ranked them 11th. For most teams, such a ranking would be an honor. But for Duke, such a ranking was a sign that things were amiss. J. J. Redick was gone. Shelden Williams was gone. There were no comparable players to replace them. Greg Paulus? Puh-lease.
Some people took it almost as a sign of Duke's apocalypse. After all, even UNC was ranked 19th in both preseason polls before the infamous 8-20 season (they dropped out in the Week 3 polls). So I can just imagine some confused voters trying to figure out what to do with a Duke team that wasn't going to be ranked 1 or 2:
"Hmmm...we don't think Duke is going to be as good as usual this year. But...it's Duke...they can't really be that bad. Let's just throw them somewhere in the middle of the poll and see how things pan out."
But unlike UNC, Duke managed to stay in the Top 25 for most of the season, with the exception of a brief absence following a 4-game skid. Did they look like a Top 25 team? Sometimes yes, mostly no. But they didn't look like a bad team, either. They were still a good team, but an average type of good, rather than the usual spectacular type of good.
They lost 11 games total. They finished 8-8 in the ACC, good for 6th place. They lost to NCSU in the opening round of the ACC Tournament, meaning they would not win the tourney for only the second time since 1999. They had two 4-game losing skids: one to UVa, FSU, UNC, and Maryland, and the other to Maryland, UNC, NCSU, and VCU. They lost their remaining three games to Marquette, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech. Nine of these losses were to teams that made it to the NCAA Tournament; the other two teams made it to the NIT. Duke can at least say it lost all of its games to quality teams, unlike some teams (Syracuse) that failed to make the NCAA Tournament (Syracuse) and then whined about it (Syracuse) by pointing to their, let's say 3, quality wins (Syracuse).
As much as I hate to admit it, Duke is no Syracuse. Some people think they should have been ranked lower than a 6 seed, and based on last night's loss, that might very well be true. Or it could mean that VCU should have been ranked higher than an 11 seed. In the end, the seeding didn't matter. VCU won; the only reason Duke might not be back in Durham yet is a snowstorm in Buffalo. But despite their relatively sub-par season, I wouldn't count them out for the longhaul. Maybe this season was a sign that Coach K is slipping, and that might very well be true. But I think I'll wait and see what happens during the next couple of seasons before I make that assessment. After all, UNC did come back from that 8-20 season to win a national championship three years later.
And with that, I'm going to take a shower so I can wash off all this "apologizing for Duke" crap. Go Tar Heels!