Duke basketball: Bully-ball might be back for Blue Devils

Duke basketball (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
Duke basketball (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images) /
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Duke basketball
Duke basketball (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports) /

Duke to the Future: Why the 2018-19 Duke basketball team was so good

It’s the same sentence that led off the last page, but even more so with this iteration from the Duke basketball vaults. The 2018-19 Blue Devils were extremely talented, but also long and athletic, physical freaks. They just weren’t constructed as nicely from an everyone-wanted-and-was-used-to-the-ball perspective as well as it being the one-and-done era. They didn’t have that extra year of playing together that the 1998-99 Duke basketball team did sans Corey Maggette.

Still, they all seemed to genuinely enjoy playing with one another even if they didn’t quite know how to sometimes. However, the story for Duke basketball 20 years later was a little different as they struggled to hit from the outside, ranking 107th in 3-point attempts but only 329th in percentage.

In an era where the three-ball can swing fortunes and ultimately did, that squad tried everything else it could to make up for that shortcoming until Michigan State forward Kenny Goins’ final dagger.

These Blue Devils were just as dominant, though never more evident than in the trashing they laid on Kentucky to start the season. That Duke basketball team, for just that night, may have been the best team to ever don Duke blue, and that performance set the bar for the season ridiculously high. They almost made it too, but even falling short, are still one of the most fun Duke basketball teams I have ever watched.

They took that physical blueprint laid out in 1998 and matched it to stunning effect. With their own unstoppable beast on the block in Zion Williamson, this Duke basketball team was third and fifth, respectively, in 2-point baskets made and percentage; and similar to their archetype two decades prior, they were third in both free throws made and attempted.

Without going into all of the stats, the 1998-99 and 2018-19 teams were frequently ranked within 10 spots or less of each other (among 350 teams in Division I), and that’s why they were both so dominant, comparable, and fun.

The more recent Blue Devils weren’t as polished offensively. But they were smothering on the defensive side, where they could switch almost anything, although they forced fewer turnovers than their predecessors. That’s more to do with Shane Battier and Chris Carrawell being among the top defenders in Duke basketball history than anything else.

The 2018-19 Blue Devils too were oh so close and just carried that feeling that it was going to happen right up until it didn’t, but these 2021-22 Blue Devils have come along to vindicate the ghosts of Duke basketball’s past. Hopefully. They are picking up the mantle that was put down not too long ago, and they seem to have the capability to use it successfully. Let’s see why the third time just may be the charm.