Duke lost again this week — for the eighth time this season, for the fourth time at home, for at least the fourth time to an opponent unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament. Consequently, at 7-8, the Blue Devils now have a losing record for the first time since November 1999. They’re 3-6 in the first two quadrants with two additional losses coming in Quadrant 3. So, barring a wild turnaround, Duke, arguably the biggest brand in the entire sport, is about to miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995.
My advice: Get your jokes off now.
They’ll likely be useless this time next season.
I was asked the other day whether I believe these wildly disappointing seasons at Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State are just one-offs or the beginning of the end of the dominance these programs have demonstrated under Hall of Fame coaches for more than a decade. Honestly, I’d lean toward the former, as I genuinely expect the Blue Devils, the Wildcats and the Spartans to bounce back next season.
And I’m all-in on Duke.
My optimism is largely rooted in the recruiting class Mike Krzyzewski is likely to enroll. And before you yell, “But Duke sucks right now even though it just enrolled a heralded recruiting class, Parrish!” let me remind you that all heralded recruiting classes are not created equal. According to 247Sports, Duke’s most recent recruiting class, the one that comprises this current team’s freshman class, featured four five-star prospects — namely Jalen Johnson, Jeremy Roach, DJ Steward and Mark Williams. On a surface level, that sounds great. But none of those players were ranked in the top 10 of the Class of 2020, which meant, for the first time since 2012, Duke did not enroll a single top-10 prospect in advance of this season.
But that won’t be the case next season.
Duke already has commitments from Paolo Banchero, a 6-9 forward ranked No. 3 in the Class of 2021, and AJ Griffin, a 6-7 wing ranked No. 7 in the Class of 2021. And the Blue Devils are also considered the leader for Patrick Baldwin, a 6-9 wing ranked No. 4 in the Class of 2021. So, at this moment, it appears Duke will eventually become just the fifth team in the past 11 years to enroll three top-10 prospects in the same year.
The four that previously did it are:
2011-12 Kentucky2013-14 Kentucky2017-18 Duke2018-19 Duke
That 2011-12 Kentucky team won the national title, the 2013-14 Kentucky team played in the national title game, the 2017-18 Duke team made the Elite Eight, and the 2018-19 Duke team also made the Elite Eight.
In other words, there’s literally no example in the past decade of a school enrolling three top-10 prospects in the same class and not either being great from the jump and all the way through the end or, as was the case with that 2013-14 Kentucky team, eventually getting great after initially struggling.
So, sure, it’s important for Coach K to bring back some of the talented pieces already in the program. But what recent history tells us is that as long as he adds a third top-10 prospect in Baldwin, to go with the other top-10 prospects he already has committed in Banchero and Griffin, the Blue Devils will be super strong.
So, again, if you’ve got Duke jokes, get them out ASAP.
Now’s definitely the time.
Because if you wait till next season, it’ll probably be too late.