The first thing to say about the Oregon game is pretty simple: the better team won.
Oregon was more athletic, more polished and more ready to move on.
|If you're going to shop Amazon please start here and help DBR|
|Drop us a line at our new address|
And that's fine. There's nothing wrong with losing to a better team, just as there's nothing wrong with acknowledging it and congratulating them.
Unlike some seasons though, there's not really a sense of disappointment.
Duke fans can look back on this season with great pride.
Remember how things felt in December when Amile Jefferson was lost for the year?
Duke only had three veterans returning and Jefferson was the key. After him was Matt Jones, an unsung hero last year but not someone likely to become an offensive force, and Marshall Plumlee, who prior to this year was a career reserve and also not expected to be a major force.
After that? The next guy back was walk-on Nick Pagliuca. No one else had played a minute. Sean Obi had practiced last year but most of us didn't know he was having serious issues with his knees.
Remember how tentative Brandon Ingram was at the beginning of the season? Remember how people were starting to say he had been overrated?
Remember wondering if Grayson Allen was ready to be a star?
All of it seems so long ago now.
This Duke team really, really did some remarkable things. Allen did become a star. Jones became a solid role player and leader and occasionally an offensive force.
Ingram moved up and took a lot of Jefferson's responsibilities, including becoming an outstanding rebounder and improved to the point where he should be, at a minimum, the #2 pick in the NBA draft.
Luke Kennard evolved into a dangerous player. Derryck Thornton, who came a year early, never quite mastered the point guard position but he too grew, particularly on defense. He had brilliant stretches as a defender.
And then there's Plumlee.
We're not sure anyone at Duke has grown as much as Plumlee has. Maybe Brian Zoubek. Maybe Lance Thomas.
The list isn't very long.
The guy who came to Duke as a geeked up skinny freshman, the good time extrovert who made his first mark interviewing his more advanced teammates...that guy became a beast. That guy, as much as anyone, embraced the idea of belonging to something bigger than himself.
Plumlee completely transformed himself, both physically and as a leader.
Before Jefferson's injury, this team belonged to all three upperclassmen. After Jones's injury at UNC, Plumlee became the leader.
This team reflected his personality as much as anyone's.
At beginning, it had a lot to prove. After Jefferson's injury, it had a lot to overcome. And after Jones's injury, really, what Duke did was pretty extraordinary.
Duke started with eight players and briefly only used five.
Against Oregon, the Blue Devils had seven players - Chase Jeter overcame his early erratic play to become a solid reserve - but it was a very young team with minimal rebounding, at times shaky defense and a razor-thin margin of error.
Yet Duke was a couple of plays away from pushing Oregon to the brink.
As much as any, this team epitomized the qualities that we admire about Duke basketball: heart, toughness, togetherness and relentless effort.
Yes, Oregon moves on, and deservedly so. They're really good. But make no mistake: this Duke team was about triumph. It never quit, it never gave up. It didn't have the weapons Duke had last year, but this team had incredible heart. Sort of like Kentucky's Unforgettables, it should have a special place in the pantheon.