Duke basketball: Blue Devils benefit from what they lack

Duke basketball (Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball (Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports) /

A Duke basketball team dialed in on team goals is a team worth rooting for.

There’s no lottery-pick prospect on the Duke basketball roster anymore. Boohoo.

There’s also no “I” in DUKE. Hallelujah.

Now, apparently lacking the burden of catering to one full-blown pro focus, Mike Krzyzewski’s 41st collection of Blue Devils has turned over a new leaf. A fresh start. A renewed hope. A togetherness that breeds a fighting chance.

It’s an understanding that what the players collectively accomplish — whether in the win column or just by seeing it through and making the best of a tough situation — will pay off for each in the long run.

They may not have an alpha, but they do have a bond that’s winning over every true Duke basketball fan.

Symbolizing the budding squad with two straight blowout wins, it’s inspirational to see Matthew Hurt flourish as a silky scorer and improve as an all-around force. The former five-star is embracing the lead role after persevering through his lackluster freshman campaign and then staying noticeably positive throughout what has thus far been a loss-riddled sophomore year.

Simply put, Hurt and all his remaining gung-ho teammates are truly endearing themselves to fans, coaches, media members, and future employers.

Make no mistake — i.e., don’t be confused by a group of admirable young men saying all the mature things in press conferences — for the guys who are still in Durham are the only 2020-21 Blue Devils.

By choice, no one else even deserves a mention going forward.

Because from the looks of Duke’s unified statement on the court via an 84-60 victory at Wake Forest (6-10, 3-10 ACC) on Wednesday night, this version of the unranked Blue Devils (9-8, 7-6 ACC) should experience zero insurmountable obstacles in terms of moving on and potentially thriving from here on out.

The reappearance of Duke basketball

Eight Blue Devils played 16-plus minutes against the Demon Deacons. Seven totaled at least three rebounds and one assist. Six knocked down at least one 3-pointer. All but three never turned the ball over, leading to a season-low six turnovers as a unit.

No pity-party attitudes. No toxic glances of frustration toward one another. Huddling close during stoppages in play. Fully engaged in every moment. Constant, productive communication.

All in all, Duke — again, no “I” necessary — displayed 40 minutes of bonafide Duke basketball. Aggressive yet calculated man-to-man defense. Consistent movement and sharp passing on the offensive end. Shooting above 50 percent from the field. Above 40 percent beyond the arc.

OK, so the 7-for-13 clip from the charity stripe isn’t ideal.

Nevertheless, from the looks of it all, and despite Wake Forest being a relatively weak opponent, these Blue Devils could indeed become some high-seeded program’s worst early-round nightmare come Selection Sunday.

But even if they fall short of an NCAA Tournament invite, even if they suffer a 60-40 defeat to No. 7 Virginia (15-4, 11-2 ACC) in Durham at 8 p.m. Saturday, even if they finish with the lowest winning percentage of any Blue Devils this century, well, at least they can say they bravely faced their Duke basketball experience this season as a tight-knit bunch.

A shared stake in the outcome. Appreciating growth and building character every step of the way.

That alone is commendable. And suddenly quite enjoyable to watch.

Plus, based on what they lack, there’s really no reason to think their newfound spirit will disappear.

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