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It's Not 1999

The (thankfully muted) TV's at the bar tonight kept replaying ESPN talking heads discussing "What's Wrong with Duke?" I can't how that filled an entire Sportscenter segment - they're very young, haven't had any depth for a few years now, and the name on the front of jersey doesn't win games by itself, no matter what television announcers might think.

The comparison being made - Dick Vitale brought up half a dozen times in the Indiana game alone - is to the 1999-2000 season, after the mass exodus of Elton Brand, Trajan Langdon, William Avery, Chris Burgess, and Corey Maggette. (Oh, and Taymon Domzalski.) The Blue Devils dropped their first two games, to Stanford and Connecticut, and struggled through the fall before going 15-1 in conference, winning the ACC, and getting a #1 NCAA Tournament seed. Because Mike Krzyzewski is brilliant, and the same thing will happen this year.

Well, no. As much as people like to play up years where "the cupboard is bare" at Duke, the 2000 squad, like some others, retained a lot of talent. The year prior, which had ended with a loss in the national championship game, Duke was a team that routinely played nine men a game, and even after losing more than expected, returned from that nine three upperclassmen in Shane Battier, Chris Carrawell, and Nate James. So sure, they started a couple of freshman, but by reducing the rotation down to seven and getting a couple of spare minutes from the likes of Nick Horvath and Matt Christiensen, they were able to win in a down year.

This year there's one upperclassman (Firestarter!) and two sophomores with significant college experience. Again, there's three freshman coming in to pick up the slack, but this was a team last year that wore itself out down the stretch with a seven-man rotation that was almost all Redick and Williams. There's less leadership, less experience and less legs than Duke's used to having, and it shows - they're still playing the slowest basketball Durham's seen in a long time.

The concern should be if the season turns out more like another in recent memory. See if this seems familiar - a Blue Devil's squad coming off an average for them season, 28-6 and 12-4 in the ACC. They had a good NCAA tournament run, and only lost two players to the NBA draft. Sure, one of them was ACC POY and a 1st team All-American, but this is Duke, they're returning a couple of starters, and even if there's not much depth, there are some household name freshmen coming in. Who needs Grant Hill?

That year was 1994-95, and Duke went 13-18 and 2-14 in the ACC. A lot of that was Krzyzewski-less, as the coach took a medical leave, but Duke had already lost two non-conference games and just dropped the ACC opener to Clemson before Gaudet took over. And no one at the helm could make this team break .500 in the ACC - they were even 8-8 the following year.

Is 2007 the return of 2-14? Nah. Duke's not that bad and the ACC is not that tough. But .500 is a real possibility and that #6 ranking will be unthinkable faster than you think. It's not 1999, after all.