Although the outlook seems bright for Duke basketball in 2021-22, there are some storm clouds on the horizon. The good news for the Blue Devils is that they can see those dark skies up ahead; the question is: can they avoid them?
By looking into Duke basketball’s past in the last “bully-ball” article, we tried to portend some success for the future. Despite those past powerhouses’ ACC titles, combined record of 69-8, and the reverent places they hold in Duke basketball fandom, neither the 1998-99 nor 2018-19 team won an NCAA title…SIGH!
But tomorrow is a new day, and I’m putting my belief, or distorted hope, in the third-time-is-a-charm theory that ran rampant through the other piece. This season’s Duke basketball squad looks more than ready, as evidenced — or not — by the short snippets of scrimmage video against the preseason’s No. 4 team, the Villanova Wildcats.
Paolo Banchero seems like the beast he was advertised to be with a good handle and ability to stretch the floor and initiate offense for himself or others. He also appears to have an air and attitude about him that screams National Player of the Year and all that entails. Again, both those other Duke basketball teams actually had NPOYs so that’s not always the recipe for ultimate success.
Some of the issues that hurt both the 1998-99 and 2018-19 squads can be seen in this current group, although no one really believes that either of them wasn’t the best in the nation and shouldn’t have won the title.
It’s yet to be seen if this group is that good, but less physically dominant teams have brought the goods back to Durham. It’s up to the 2021-22 Blue Devils to take their chance at Duke basketball immortality and do what those two comparable behemoths could not.
We explored how these Blue Devils can be just as good by using their physical gifts to their advantage. Like Duke’s previous bullies, this group seems primed to hit the glass, get out in transition, and play smothering defense. They are big and thick, and most don’t seem to mind mixing it up a little bit. Offensively, they have one of the more deadly in-out duos in the nation, potentially, in Trevor Keels and Banchero.
I would bring Trajan Langdon and Elton Brand to mind, but that’s almost sacrilegious considering neither freshman has played a game yet and those other guys were just the senior/sophomore combo leading Duke basketball’s most dominant team of all time. Either way, the potential for great things is there, if Duke can play above the faults that brought those others down.