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New Media Meme: Duke Is Back! Duke Is Back!

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Despite the fact their situation has only slightly improved and the meme hinges on not yet realized commitments from two high school players..

Jeff Goodman earlier this week and now Gary Parrish have written online projecting a return to Final Fours and national title contention if the Blue Devils land Harrison Barnes and Kylie Irving. Needless to say both declarations strike me as somewhat premature.

First of all, Goodman(no link):

If Coach K can get a commitment from Irving – one of the nation's elite point guards – and then secure Harrison Barnes, arguably the nation's top player, the Blue Devils could be back in business and competing for national titles once again.

Now Parrish:

And if Mike Krzyzewski also lands Harrison Barnes -- Duke is widely considered the leader for Barnes, too -- then we won't be talking about the Blue Devils' Final Four drought much longer, because a core of Irving and Barnes is the type of core that would return Duke to its rightful place among the nation's truly elite basketball schools.

I do not disagree much with the analysis.  Certainly Barnes and Irving would give Duke the type of athletic players, especially on the interior, they they have missed on in recent years.  But could someone please explain to me why we have to national writers basically saying the same thing about Duke within two days of each other? Did these guys put money on Duke for the 2011 NCAA Tournament or something?  Jeff Goodman, for his part, is probably glad Parrish jumped on the bandwagon so if it all backfires he can say "I wasn't the only one who thought that!" Parrish actually goes much further discussing how Duke's recruiting has been substandard(relatively speaking) but at the same time how great Mike Krzyzewski was to even have Duke finishing 2nd in the ACC during that span.  Amid all that Parrish then makes a curious argument:

It's a direct result, I think, of putting too much emphasis on character and intangibles -- i.e., so-called "good and smart kids" -- in recruiting and not enough emphasis on just getting badass ballers who can run and jump at an elite level. Beyond that, Duke hasn't always operated with a clear backup plan, and so when the Blue Devils missed on guys like Greg Monroe (signed with Georgetown) and Kenny Boynton (signed with Florida), there was nowhere to turn and recover.

In other words, while somebody like John Calipari will cast a wide net -- Kentucky has offered each of the top four point guards in the Class of 2010; Calipari will be thrilled to get any two of them -- Krzyzewski has a history of isolating targets and focusing almost exclusively on a handful of guys. Throughout most of the 1990s, it worked. But at some point over the past decade kids stopped automatically accepting scholarship offers from Duke over places like Georgetown and Florida, and that has clearly played a role in the slip.

But the slip is over.

Or at least it's about to be over.

--

Bottom line, the recruiting troubles that have plagued Duke recently seem to be a thing of the past.

That means those on-the-court troubles will soon be disappearing, too.

Holy cart before the horse Batman! Right now no one knows what Barnes is going to do.  Based on what I have read is Barnes is not a sure thing for Duke and calling them a leader for his services might be a tad strong.  Duke has had the longest relationship with Barnes and that does factor in heavily where recruiting is concerned.  However, Roy has made a strong play for the #1 player in 2010 and the speculation is UNC is as much a player for Barnes as Duke is at this point.

Secondary to that, Parrish is flat wrong about why Duke's recruiting has fallen off.  It has nothing to do with pursuing "good and smart kids" for the sake of it.  It has everything to do with the fact Mike Krzyzewski swore off recruiting players who might jump to the NBA after one season following the departure of Luol Deng following freshman season.  There was also the decommitment of Shaun Livingston to enter the NBA Draft around that same time frame.  These two incidents is what I think led to perceptible shift in how Duke recruited opting to pursue fewer one and doners in favor of kids with longer term college plans. At the same time UNC continued to recruit both and built incredibly successful teams despite having early departures for the NBA.

The one and done angle is only part of it however.  Another aspect of the equation is the fact Roy Williams returned to North Carolina and within two years began cleaning Duke's clock on a regular basis.  Check the records, the last time Duke had a legitimate center was also the last time they beat UNC in their own building and even then Duke lost the last game Shelden Williams played there to UNC. Roy's recruiting prowess is also part of Duke's slide as witnessed by Brandan Wright ending up at UNC following heavy speculation he would end up at Duke. Roy's recent run at UNC also has diminished the Duke brand to the point the Blue Devils are releasing videos in an effort to market their on the court product because the actual on the court product is underwhelming.  UNC on the other hand has been playing an uptempo style of basketball that mimics the NBA game and is darn exciting to watch. Looking at the two side by side produces a startling contrast which does impact player recruiting.  And it's not just UNC either.  Parrish is correct to point out that programs like Florida and Georgetown to name two have been effective in stealing players from Duke just as UNC does.

Of course Parrish does not see the NBA angle and instead offers up a fairly asinine theory that Duke's slump is a result of targeting smart/character kids versus ones who can actually play.  Guess what?  Roy Williams keeps recruiting character kids who are smart and athletic all at the same time.  Danny Green, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Tyler Hansbrough, Ed Davis, Deon Thompson, John Henson and potentially others are all "ballers who can run and jump at an elite level" and you know what else they are?  All student athletes with great character and of the ones who have moved on Roy has gushed that they were a joy to have on his team. In fact the more I read that particular paragraph the more shocked I am that Parrish actually wrote it. Not because it is necessarily wrong(which it is) but because it is entirely possible there is a racial tinge to it. Contrasting "good and smart kids"(which Duke has now) to "badass ballers"(which Duke does not have) strikes me as, shall we say, uncomfortable in connotation. The facts on the ground in Durham is not Duke's failure to pursue of recruits with character, it has been the pursuit of recruits who had character but not elite talent. Part of that is because said talent often leads to early departures to the NBA. There also may be issues with the perception that Duke is not a good destination in you want to develop, especially for a post player with NBA potential.  Contrast that to UNC where Roy has been able to recruit the "good and smart kids" who at the same time are extremely talented.  Danny Green, by all accounts, is a good, smart kid and you can ask Greg Paulus whether or not Green is a "badass baller" I am pretty sure we know what the answer is to that question.  In addition, this also has nothing to do with Krzyzewski"isolating targets" instead of casting a wide net as Calipari does(which is a necessity for Calipari seeing that someone might not pass their SAT.)  Roy's recruiting approach is pretty much the same as Krzyzewski, he hones in on certain players and pursues them in a certain pecking order.  It works for Roy but not for Krzyzewski?  I suppose, but it has nothing to do with the approach.

All that being said, I am not foolish enough to think or believe that Duke will continue to be stuck where they are.  Certainly landing Irving would improve their team and the current roster has some young post talent.  Even if Duke misses on Barnes but lands Irving, there is enough talent already in Durham with Seth Curry coming off a transfer year and their other commits to see a discernible improvement. The problem for Duke without landing a player like Barnes is they will still be operating without an elite big man for five years running and the more they miss on players like Barnes, the more it looks like the well is poisoned for post players with aspirations of development.  After all the assistant coaches at Duke ain't the best around and that is another factor I really cannot delve into now.  The ultimate point here is that while Duke may have their fortunes rise, they still must contend with the team eight miles away.  While Duke's hand has gotten stronger and potentially could improve, the last I checked Roy Williams was still raking in the some of the best players in the nation and shows no signs of letting up.

For whatever reason Goodman and Parrish have been hot and heavy to promote legendary programs recently on a downturn.  First it was Kentucky with the drooling over John Calipari(which Parrish, to his credit, backed off after the Memphis charges came due) and hyping the upcoming UK squad to no end.  Likewise, both Goodman and Parrish are now pushing this "Duke is coming back baby" meme like its 1998. Perhaps it's true and if it is, I would not be shocked by it.  Krzyzewski did not win three titles by being a bad coach and there is a cyclical nature to the way college basketball programs operate over the course of many years.  What I am not clear on is why both writers feel compelled to promote this idea when, as of this posting, Duke has neither Irving or Barnes committed.  To me it speaks of some sort of deep anxiousness to have Duke return to the level they were in the early part of the decade they are willing to decree it to be so before anything is set in stone. The problem is they ignore some of the real issues surrounding Duke recent recruiting slide in favor of a full blown plug for an eventual Duke return to prominence.

What I do know is regardless of what Duke has going on, I am confident Roy Williams will continue to stock the cupboard with elite talent which will, at the very least, keep the Heels in step or ahead of Duke.