clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Featherston: Leaving Indy

INDIANAPOLIS - Mike Krzyzewski probably offered his best evaluation of Sunday night's Midwest Regional championship game on Saturday afternoon - more than 24 hours before tipoff.

He was talking about his relationship with Rick Pitino.

"Rick's the kind of guy that knows he's good and knows it's okay for somebody else to be good," Coach K said. "And then if the other guy who is good wins, you shake his hand and you know you'll get another chance to be good."

Sunday night, Krzyzewski shook Pitino's hand and congratulated his friend on Louisville's 85-63 victory over Duke - a win that propels the Cardinals on to the Final Four, while sending the Blue Devils back to Durham, the season over.

K has had a number of heartbreaking defeats in his career, but this wasn't one of them. Plain and simple, Duke got beat by a better team.

"It's the best team we've played and they're obviously better than the team we played in the Bahamas," Mike Krzyzewski said. "Their two guards just set an amazing pace. They played a great game. We tried to match them and we couldn't match them."

But losing to Louisville did not leave the same bitter taste in Krzyzewski's mouth that last year's opening round loss to No. 15 seed Lehigh did. This season also ended with a loss, but it was a far more palatable defeat.

"I think we've had an unbelievable season," Krzyzewski said. "I didn't like our season last year, not just the way it ended. I just didn't like it, even though we were 27-7.

"I loved this season. I've had a great team and my three seniors have been the epitome of Duke basketball seniors. Winning 124 games over four seasons and just representing us so well … it's been a joy every day to be with them."

Now, Krzyzewski will have rebuild without those three seniors - Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry. That trio were the three best players on the 2013 Duke team.

But - here's where that handshake comes in - K knows he's good … and he knows that even if Rick Pitino's team was a little bit better this season, the Duke coach knows he'll get another chance to be good in the near future - probably even next year.

It will be a very different Duke team next season.

It will be younger without the three senior starters. It will be bigger and more athletic on the perimeter, but it will lack the powerful post presence that Mason Plumlee provided.

One of the key players for next season was in Indianapolis, but in street clothes. Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood had to make the trip on his own, just as Seth Curry did in 2010. And like Curry, Hood is going to be an important cog in Duke's next team.

Hood has practiced with the team all season. He'll join holdover starters Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon on the perimeter next season, along with veteran Tyler Thornton and recruits Matt Jones, a deadly shooter from Texas, and Semi Ojeleye, a wonderfully athletic wing from Kansas. And that doesn't include the possible return of 6-4 fifth-year season Andre Dawkins.

The 6-8 Hood (and the 6-6 Ojeleye) will provide Duke with real size on the perimeter for the first time since Kyle Singler played small forward in 2010 and 2011. Their presence should allow the 6-4 Sulaimon to transform from an undersized wing forward to a good-sized wing guard.

Up front, Krzyzewski will start with 6-8 (or 6-9, depending on the source) combo forward Jabari Parker. The Chicago superstar - rated the No. 2 player in the class - will be on display Wednesday night in the McDonald's All-America game in his hometown.

While Parker is usually listed as a forward, he's actually a fairly positionless player. What he is is a winner - having recently cut down the nets after winning his FOURTH Illinois prep championship.

Have no doubt that Parker will play a key role up front.

The rest of the frontcourt rotation will be determined by how well this season's young backups mature and develop in the off-season.

Amile Jefferson probably has the most potential, if he can add a few pounds and get a bit stronger. His long arms could allow him to play center, even at 6-8. Marshall Plumlee, whose freshman season was disrupted by a preseason foot injury, is the one player on the roster with real center size. Josh Hairston, the top post reserve this season, has his limitations, but he'll be a senior and K loves his defense. And there has to be a role for 6-8 Alex Murphy, who has some obvious physical and offensive skills.

That's going to be a potent roster, no matter how it works out.

The question is whether it's going to be 2012 good … 2013 good … or something even better.

That will depend on a number of factors, including health (the last three Duke teams have been crippled by significant injuries), leadership and chemistry.

Thornton and Hairston will almost certainly be the captains next season and both seem to have the leadership qualities that K appreciates. But sometimes it's tough for a sub to be a leader and there is no guarantee that either Thornton or Hairston will be a starter next season.

There's also the issue that surfaced in 2012, when the best player on the team was a freshman. Austin Rivers has been unfairly lambasted by some so-called Duke fans, but whether it was his fault or not, it's undeniable that the 2012 team had some chemistry issues.

It's very possible that Parker will be the best player on the Duke team next year. Could that create similar issues?

Of course, it's possible that the best player on the team next year will be Sulaimon or Cook. Both young guards had their ups and downs this past season, but both were brilliant at times. Both are ahead of the career pace that Nolan Smith followed at Duke - and he emerged as a great player in his junior season.

Cook, for one, sounded like he was already looking ahead in the locker room after the game.

"It's been a great season for all of us," he said. "We were one step from the Final Four, but all our guys coming back will use it as motivation."

It all comes down to one of K's favorite expressions - next play.

The 2013 Blue Devils saw their season end Sunday night in Indianapolis. It was a disappointing, but not an embarrassing defeat. Now they'll head home and start working on the next season.

Next play.