Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Times Have Gotten Hard for Duke

by Tasha

This year has not started off very well for me in the sports world. The Cowboys...two words: Tony Romo. I won't go any farther than that.

And now, Duke has officially dropped out of the Top 25 today after four-straight losses.

I'll be 100 percent honest in saying that I don't get excited watching this year's Duke team. Something about them is just...different (and no...it's not just because they're not winning). I knew it was going to be a transition from last year. What team wouldn't go through a transition after losing two incredible players, two incredible people, and an incredible inside-outside duo? If anyone had any doubts as to what J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams meant to Duke basketball, they shouldn't have any doubts about their importantance and contributions to the team now. On top of losing Redick and Williams, I think that this team really misses the leadership of players like Sean Dockery and Lee Melchionni.

So I knew going into this season that we would be awfully young. Our "captains" on this team are even young. DeMarcus is a junior and Josh and Greg are only sophomores. Everyone else on the team has had no experience at the college level, much less at the DUKE level, until this year.

Even though I knew the transition would be difficult, I did not think it was going to include a four-game losing streak in which we gave away a win at home against UNC and were completely embarrassed by an unranked Maryland team. And to think: Our ACC record could possibly be even worse because let's face it...we got lucky in the Clemson game.

Josh, Greg, and DeMarcus have disappointed me this season. I was never expecting them to completely fill the shoes of J.J., Shelden, Lee, and Sean, but I at least thought that they'd make a better showing than what they have thus far. I just don't feel the passion from them. I could be wrong - I know that those boys love Duke and I know that they really give it their all, but I'm a stickler for looking at people's facial expressions and body language. From their expressions and the way they carry themselves on the court, on the bench, and following games, I just don't get a good feeling. They seem to have a blank, expressionless look on their faces...A LOT. That frustrates me.

The freshmen: Other than Scheyer, none of them have really stood out to me. Henderson, Zoubeck, and Thomas are all but invisible to me during the games. None of those guys have stepped it up for this team when it's been really needed.

Something about this team doesn't scream "Duke" to me. We as Duke fans have become awfully spoiled. I have not had the heartbreaks of the same magnitude that I have had with the Cowboys because Duke is pretty consistent with how they play and how they go about their business...simply put, they win, they typically win by a lot, and they win with a certain arrogance that only Duke fans can love. This year, Duke is not winning and I'm realizing just how fragile college basketball dominance really is. We haven't seen anything like this for more than ten years.

The game is crazy: Just think of the players that have left us: Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, William Avery, Luol Deng, Shaun Livingston... We could have had at least one more championship if any of those players had stayed with Duke longer. But even though many players have left prematurely or not come at all, Duke has still continued to have success. Someone has always stepped up...someone has always found a way to ignite the team...someone has always been "the guy" after the previous year's guy left us. But we don't have that with this team. No one has filled one-quarter of J.J.'s or Shelden's shoes and we're feeling the sting of that right now.

The one positive I can see in all of this is that we can finally unload all those bandwagon Dukies. I see another positive when I think of how the boys will grow from this season and hopefully come back even stronger next season. This season can be a learning experience from the top on down, from Coach K, to the players, to the assistant coaches, and to the fans. Winning, especially when it's done consistently and seems to come so easy to a team, can be taken for granted. I for one think that this season will be an eye-opener to many people.

I don't want this blog to come across as me thinking that our season is over, but we need to right the ship (borrowing that from Kristi ) right now. We have more road games left on the schedule compared to home games, and anyone that knows the ACC knows how big homecourt advantage is. This team isn't a national championship contender - I'll go ahead and say that right now. If we don't get back on the right track, I could see us losing early in the ACC Tourney, getting a mid-to-lower seed in the NCAAs, and losing in that tournament fairly early as well. That won't affect the love I have for Duke, but dang...how weird would that be?

So all in all, I want this team to make me feel like they're DUKE. And by saying that I want them to make me feel like they're Duke, I don't even necessarily mean by them winning because it's not all about wins, it's all about how a team conducts themselves through the good times and through the bad. I just want them to wear the uniform and to perform like all the other Duke teams have - show some intensity, show some passion, and most importantly, show some PRIDE.

Bring back the old Duke.

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