Jabari Barred, Mercer Advances

Mar 21, 2014; Raleigh, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Amile Jefferson (21) fights for a rebound with Mercer Bears forward Bud Thomas (5) and forward Daniel Coursey (52) in the first half of a men's college basketball game during the second round o

Mercer Was The Better Team.

Duke's problems have waxed and waned all season, but they come down to the same things. From Vermont to Mercer, Duke has struggled to communicate on defense, to defend, and to play well as a group.

That's not because anyone is selfish or difficult. It's a good group. But Coach K talked after the first Carolina game about this team missing "it." In an earlier time, he maybe defined "it" with a certain 12-letter word. Duke's had a lot of those guys over the years - Christian Laettner. JJ Redick. Johnny Dawkins. David Henderson. Kyle Singler. Shane Battier. Jason Williams.

This team didn't have that. Later in his career, whether it's at Duke or in the NBA, Jabari Parker will become one. Right now, though, he's not. Despite his advanced understanding of the game, he does not yet have the will to dominate and the other players are mostly complimentary players, at least at this point.

As much as Duke's flaws have hurt, Mercer's strengths helped the Bears. This is a very experienced team, starting five seniors, and those seniors know exactly what to do.

If this group stayed together for awhile, it would too. That's not the nature of college basketball anymore, though.

It's almost hard to remember, but do you remember why Tyler Thornton was recruited? He was insurance for Kyrie Irving.

Irving would have been a senior this year, and he would have been light years beyond anyone in college. He would've been that guy. But that world is gone.

We told you in 1999 that experienced teams with lesser talent had a significant advantage, and that is the world we live in now. It's not enough to always put them in the title game, a la Butler, but it's more than enough to knock out Oklahoma, Ohio State and now, Duke.

Is it parity? Not exactly. The power conferences will continue to dominate the Final Four. But the opportunities for schools outside those conferences are, more than ever, available.

It'll be interesting to see how this game affects Jabari Parker. He sees himself - correctly in fact - as a winner. Four high school championships is an amazing accomplishment.

Doing it in college is different though. It's far, far harder. Is it unfinished business?

We'll see. It's his decision and nobody else's. Duke fans have seen that he's an unusual kid, mature, thoughtful and not particularly hung up on himself. He's earned a lot of respect, and it's justified.

What we're left with after this game, other than the poor defense, lack of communication and inability to stop a tough opponent in the closing minutes, is the look on Amile Jefferson's face as he stared at the court. He played his heart out in this game.

There's a lot to work on over the summer, regardless of what Parker does (Rodney Hood is almost universally seen as entering the draft, a view Coach K supported when he said that he wished he'd have Hood "for more than a year.")

Duke will add a superb big man in Jahlil Okafor, a brilliant point guard in Tyus Jones, a tremendous swingman in Justise Winslow and a remarkably athletic guard in Grayson Allen.

But it'll be a long summer until those guys start practice, and until then, this game is going to smart.

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