Another college basketball season has come and gone and sadly the month of March flew by way too fast. Coming into this 2016-17 season, the Duke Blue Devils had the #2 recruiting class in the nation with four McDonald’s All-Americans coming in: Harry Giles (PF), Jason Tatum (SF), Marquees Boldin (C), and Frank Jackson (PG). All four of whom were in the ESPN top 25 players for their grade. Duke also managed to land Javin DeLaurier (PF) who was in the ESPN top 100 as well. On top of landing five high school standouts, Duke had Luke Kennard returning, along with Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson, and Matt Jones. Duke had everything it took this past season to make a good March Madness run and even a shot at the national title. They had a great recruiting class coming and they had upperclassmen leadership from players like Allen, Jefferson, and Jones. I have to say that before the start of the season I was very excited to see the potential of this team play out through the season.
Unfortunately, before the season had even started three of our four McDonald’s All-Americans came down with injuries that caused them to miss several games this season (Harry Giles, Jason Tatum, and Marquees Boldin). Giles and Boldin really struggled with their injuries throughout the season. It really is a shame considering Giles was the number two player in the nation coming out of high school and Boldin was the number 11th player. They both seemed to have loads of potential and it was hard to watch so many games with them on the bench. Sadly, after they both overcame their injuries, they struggled to find their place on the team. They both often played timid, worrying about creating further injury. Tatum is a different story. He came back from injury and really evolved as a player the rest of the season and it was so fun to watch. Tatum averaged almost 17 points, just over 7 rebounds, and 2 assists a game, compared to Giles, who averaged less than four points, 3 rebounds and not even an assist a game. Marquees struggled just as much Giles when it came to the stat sheet. Now, it is important for me to say that Harry Giles started to play a lot better once the ACC tournament picked up and in March.
Because of their strong recruiting class and who they had returning to school, Duke was ranked #1 in the nation coming into this past season. To say the least, Duke struggled to live up to that ranking. Throughout the season, Duke star, Grayson Allen, could not stay out of the media and not in a good way. He was struggling to perform as the season went on and he ended up being given a “indefinite” suspension for the tripping another player during his game against Elon. Grayson Allen had a great sophomore season and he was given a captain’s role this season, which put more pressure on his shoulders to perform. Grayson, who averaged almost 22 points a game last season, saw his numbers drop to just 14 points a game. Lucky for Grayson and his stats, he caught fire in the ACC tournament and in the NCAA tournament. We saw him play like he did his sophomore year.
With Grayson not playing well and missing a game due to suspension, Luke Kennard was the man to step up and he really gave us a season to remember. He averaged 19 points per game and received MVP honors (with Jason Tatum), along with being recognized as an All-American. Luke ,after the season had ended, decided to put his name into the NBA draft, and I have to say I am very sad he is leaving; however, he is more than ready and will be a great asset to any NBA team.
Considering Duke was ranked #1 in the nation coming into the season, a lot of people were disappointed with how they were doing going into the ACC tournament. Giles and Boldin were not playing at all to the hype they had coming in. Grayson was struggling to score and Frank Jackson was on and off when it came to what he contributed to the team. Duke was sitting at a record 23-8. That is pretty mediocre when you are sitting at #1 overall coming into the year. Duke managed to get the 5th seed in the ACC tournament. At this point in the season, I did not think Duke had a chance to win the ACC tournament. Quite frankly, I was pretty certain this year was just turning into a big disappointment. In order to win the ACC title, they would have to win four really tough games in four days. No team had ever done that before in this tournament… Until this year. Duke surprised a lot of people when they beat teams like Louisville, North Carolina, and Notre Dame to win it. While watching the ACC tournament, it was like Duke was a whole different team. Allen was playing like his normal self again, Giles was coming alive off the bench, Frank Jackson was checking into the game and giving us instant offense and defense, and Kennard and Tatum were leading the charge playing like they had most of the season, not to mention our seniors lead by example the whole tournament. This was a pleasant surprise considering how average of a season the Blue Devils were having. Once again my hope were back up again going into March with Selection Sunday just a few days away. Because of winning the ACC title, the Blue Devils managed to lock up a two seed in the east. Unfortunately, Duke feel short in the round of 32 to a great and underdog South Carolina team.
Duke had everything it took to win a national championship this year and there is no denying that. It’s unfortunate we came up short and struggled to find wins throughout the season, considering how good we were. We lost in the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament. Does that make this season total bust? My answer would be no. Overall, I think Duke’s average season stems from injuries and how certain players didn’t quite bounce back from them. A lot of times got Duke in foul trouble late in games because they did not have the depth they needed due to injuries. Giles and Boldin were stars coming into this season and after they were injured they really struggled both with confidence and just overall play. With all the negatives that came with this season, I think this Blue Devils team and coaching staff have a lot to be proud of. They accomplished something never done before by winning the ACC championship with four games in four days. The fact that we competed for a title in the best basketball conference in the nation is something to be so proud of. We beat North Carolina twice in one year. Not only is this huge because of how big the rivalry is between the two team but also because North Carolina went on to win the National Championship. On top of that, Duke will be sending five players to the draft and possibly a sixth (Frank Jackson who hasn’t signed with an agent, he has the option to return to school). Sending players to the next level with such success is something any school should take pride in. These players will be truly missed, however it will be very rewarding for all of us Duke fans to see them flourish at the next level.
Duke Nation also has some things to be excited about for next season. Grayson Allen has recently announced he will be returning to school for his senior season! This is huge for Duke. Grayson has proved (for the most part) that he is a prominent scorer and leader on this team. Duke also has some very talented incoming freshmen. Wendell Carter is among the Duke signees. He is a very talented power forward who has proved himself to be the best high-schooler in his position and fourth best overall player in the nation according to ESPN’s recruiting board. Gary Trent Jr. is another big recruit duke has managed to land. He is from Apple Valley, Minnesota and is the best high school shooting guard and seventh overall player in the nation. There are still many ESPN top 100 recruits that have not made a decision on where they will attend in the fall. Duke is pursuing several of those players and has a good chance to land a few of them. I already cannot wait for the start of next season! After winning the ACC title, with Grayson returning for his senior season and the Blue Devils already landing a few outstanding recruits, there is a lot to be excited about in the world of Duke basketball!