You don’t have to be a diehard college basketball fan to recognize or know some of the programs which are consistently placed in the elite category. One of those programs will
always be listed near the top of the totem pole, The Duke Blue Devils.
Since 1990, the Blue Devils have always been part of the NCAA tournament field. Thirteen times they entered as a number one seed. Eight times Duke was featured in the championship game and five times they were crowned the National Champions. While posting a sixty-three percent winning record in their championship game appearances, not every year had been a championship year for Coach K and his squads.
It’s known that college basketball can be very lucrative for the universities. Just like college football, there are bragging rights abound for alumni and more importantly, boosters. Also, it’s not a given that a school with a top echelon basketball program also has a topnotch football program. Case in point, the Duke Blue Devils. A very small percentage of the population would associate football with Duke, and some may not even realize the Duke has a football program. But basketball? Everyone associates Duke with basketball.
Conference tournaments, March Madness appearances and success in the tournament all equate to income for the universities. It is also the biggest opportunity for coaches to cash-in
on contract incentives. Here is an example from the 2019 March Madness tournament.
The contract for Virginia’s head coach, Tony Bennett, has no incentive if the Cavaliers win the Atlantic Coast regular season conference title. However, the Cavaliers’ Sweet Sixteen round victory over Oregon earned Coach Bennett a tidy, $250,000. The Elite Eight round had the Cavs facing Purdue’s Boilermakers. In a thrilling overtime win, the Cavs came out on top and that meant not only advancing to the Final Four, it meant another, $250,000 for Coach Bennett. The semifinals had the Cavaliers taking on Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers. Another down to the wire thriller with the Cavs winning by one and moving to the National Championship game where they met, Texas Tech. One more game, one more overtime win and the Cavalier’s secured the National Championship. That victory also secured one more bonus installment of, $400,000. Those are only the incentive bonuses for the tournament wins. He also received a paltry, $50,000, for being named ACC Coach of The Year. And, for reaching the five-year mark as head coach of the Cavaliers, Tony B. received a, one-million dollar longevity payment. One million dollars for being on the job for five years. The best I’ve ever received was a tie pin or a Starbucks gift card.
As you can see, lucrative is an understatement when it comes to the potential financial gains for universities and their regarded head coaches. So, what does this have to do with the Duke Blue Devils?
Along with the likes of, Kentucky’s, John Calipari, Duke’s Hall of Fame Coach, Mike Krzyzewski, has been very open that he earns his money through the tournaments. Success in the Big Dance is not only important for continuing to add onto the legacy and dynasty he has helped to create, it becomes personal when the incentives are applied.
Now Coach K’s down years are few and far between. There are coaches who have come and gone throughout NCAA basketball that would trade just about anything to have one of Coach K’s down years. But while it’s known where Coach K earns the big bucks, it doesn’t appear this will be one of those years.
Some prescribe to the theory that the seasoned coaches, the ones with longevity, practice a variety of ways to position themselves for the tournament. Depending on the program, things like dropping a few consecutive games, some inconsistent play, aren’t reasons for concern. In fact, that might be true to some programs, but I don’t think that applies to the 2020 Duke Blue Devils.
Don’t get me wrong, Duke has twenty-four wins and in the ACC are currently one-half game back from second place, Florida State. But, Duke also has six losses and historically, that seems to be somewhat of a magic number.
This year’s Duke team has not seen consistent play from, forwards Matt Hurt and Wendell Moore. Guard Cassius Stanley has also had issues finding a consistent rhythm. Generally speaking, the offense is strong, but they have trouble closing games as was witnessed this past weekend when Duke couldn’t hang onto the lead and lost at the hands of the Virginia Cavaliers. A glaring stat from that game is the, seventeen percent, 3-of-18, performance on layups. It wasn’t just the offense, defensively, they had issues and one that has seemed to be present throughout the season.
Tre Jones is a great defensive player and one-on-one can shut down any guard he plays against. Vernon Carey is certainly a big man you want in the paint. Unfortunately, it seems teams have figured out how to dribble through the Duke defense. There’s the problem and that’s how they lost to Virginia. Again, this wasn’t an isolated game or instance, this has been an issue all season, one that has contributed to the six losses. So, what’s magical about six (or more) losses going into March Madness?
Since 2000, the Blue Devils have won three National Championships, 2001/35-4, 2010/35-5, 2015/35-4. In each of those years, Duke entered the tournament as a number one seed. Conversely, in 2003, Duke entered the tournament as a number three seed and lost to Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen round. That year Duke lost six regular season contests In 2007, after recording nine regular season losses, Duke was given a 6 seed and lost in the opening round to VCU. 2014 saw the Blue Devils as a number three seed and they suffered an opening round loss to fourteenth seeded Mercer. That year, Duke lost seven regular season games.
There you have it. Food for thought. All fact, no fake news here. Certainly, Duke can get their dancing shoes ready. They’ll certainly be invited to the party. But in my estimation, they won’t come close to being around for the last dance.