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After winning two consecutive games on last-second plays, Duke’s NCAA Tournament luck ran out in the Elite Eight as the overall top-seeded Blue Devils lost a 68-67 heartbreaker to Michigan State on Sunday in Washington.
While the Blue Devils enjoyed a nine-point lead — their biggest in the tournament — in the first half, they couldn’t hold off a 5-1 Spartans run in the final 104 seconds and earn their first trip to the Final Four in four years.
Behind 24 points by Zion Williamson and 21 from fellow freshman R.J. Barrett, Duke nearly capped off a historic season by giving coach Mike Krzyzewski his record 13th Final Four appearance. Instead, Duke fans are left wondering “what if?” as the Blue Devils face another offseason of roster upheaval and head into next year with plenty of question marks surrounding the makeup of the 2019-20 team.
NBA DECISIONS UPCOMING
With three obvious NBA draft decisions upcoming from freshmen Barrett, Williamson and Cam Reddish, Duke fans will be awaiting official announcements from the three projected lottery picks in the coming weeks.
After this weekend’s Final Four, look for the program to begin trickling out announcements from the trio and then wait for who could come next. Freshman point guard Tre Jones, projected anywhere between a late first-rounder and early second-rounder, depending on what mock draft you’re reading, could be joined by junior center Marques Bolden in the pre-draft evaluation process.
BARRETT’S PLACE IN THE RECORD BOOKS
RJ Barrett’s mark on the Duke record books will be substantial in his one season in Durham, leaving the program as its highest-scoring freshman ever.
He also set the ACC’s all-time freshman scoring record and put up the second highest-scoring season ever at Duke with 860 points. Only JJ Redick’s ridiculous senior season in 2005-06 when he scored 941 points ranks higher. Barrett played point guard when Jones went out with a shoulder injury, moved to a small forward role on defense when Williamson went out with a knee injury and basically did almost everything on the court for a young Duke team that was trying to find its way nearly the entire season.
ZION WILL LEAVE A MARK
Even though he didn’t play a full season, Williamson exits as the second-highest scoring freshman to ever wear a Duke jersey. Williamson brought the sports world to their TVs like no other player in recent memory, combining elite athleticism and ball handling with an NFL defensive end’s body that forced even the most ardent Duke haters to at least tune in to see what he would do next.
Williamson, who was announced as The Associated Press Player of the Year on Friday, won’t be soon forgotten in Durham either, as the media star is expected to sign a signature shoe deal and become the face of numerous marketing campaigns that the Duke basketball program will no doubt leverage to its favor.
WHAT DOES NEXT YEAR LOOK LIKE?
Depending on the decisions of Jones and Bolden, Duke could either have one of its most veteran rosters in recent years or be a thin team dependent on incoming freshmen without the clout of past one-and-done stars.
If it’s the former, Coach K could be looking at starting Jones at point guard alongside freshman Wendell Moore, junior Alex O’Connell, freshman Vernon Carey and Marques Bolden with Javin DeLaurier, Jack White and Jordan Goldwire as experienced veterans off the bench alongside sophomore Joey Baker and freshmen Boogie Ellis and potentially Matthew Hurt.
If it’s the latter, Duke will almost certainly make a bigger push to land a transfer player in the backcourt like Alabama’s Kira Lewis, who has entered the NCAA transfer portal, or a five-star guard like Cassius Stanley.
FOOTBALL SPRING SHOWCASE
Friday night was a chance for Duke Football to put their program on display in front of a number of elite recruits and a small, but dedicated, cadre of fans who braved inclement weather. There are just under five months until David Cutcliffe and crew open the season against Alabama on Aug. 31 in the annual Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic in Atlanta.
Adam Rowe covers Duke basketball, football and recruiting for 247Sports.com. Check out more of his work at duke.247sports.com.