Duke NCAA postmortem: There's light at end of tunnel

Apr. 02, 2013 @ 11:20 AM

Rodney Hood practiced regularly with Duke this season while sitting out as a transfer from Mississippi State.

The athletic 6-foot-8 forward worked plenty against Duke’s three talented seniors, even though two of them (Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry) missed many practices due to injury.

Still, Hood saw enough from Kelly, Curry and Mason Plumlee that he thinks will help he and the Blue Devils play well without them next season.

“They have been special to me,” Hood said Sunday, following Duke’s 85-63 loss to Louisville in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional final at Lucas Oil Stadium. “ Just watching them all year and what they put into the game. They are like big brothers to me — Mason, Seth and Ryan. I know they will have pro careers after this.

“They have meant so much to this program. They started off winning the (2010) national championship and won so much throughout their careers. Obviously we didn’t want to end on this note. But I’ll take everything they taught me into next season.”

Hood, a Southeastern Conference all-freshman team selection in 2011-12, will be a major part of Duke’s team next season.

But on Sunday, he saw the current team that harbored legitimate national championship hopes struggle against a Louisville team that’s playing arguably the best basketball of anyone in the country at the right time.

The NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, the Cardinals (33-5) are the lone No. 1 seed to reach this weekend’s Final Four in Atlanta. Louisville’s 14th consecutive win ended a season of accomplishment and adversity for Duke (30-6), which logged its 13th 30-win season.

For the second season in a row, the Blue Devils failed to hang a banner in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke didn’t win an ACC championship or a reach a Final Four.

The last time that happened was the 2007 and 2008 seasons. Prior to that, Duke hadn’t gone two years in a row without an ACC Tournament or Final Four appearance since 1997 and 1998.

But that doesn’t mean coach Mike Krzyzewski views this season as a failure. Not even close.

“I’ve had a great team,” Krzyzewski said, “and my three seniors, my three seniors have been the epitome of Duke basketball seniors.”

Plumlee became the most decorated of the three. Already a first-team all-ACC pick, Plumlee was named a second-team all-American by the Associated Press as well as a Wooden Award all-American on Monday.

He averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds per game, logging 18 double-doubles in Duke’s 36 games.

On Sunday, he led Duke in scoring (17 points) and rebounding (12) in the disappointing loss to Louisville. It was just the third time Duke lost this season in a game where Plumlee produced a double-double.

Averaging 24 points in Duke’s three NCAA Tournament wins, Curry struggled to score only 12 points. Kelly had seven points, finishing on a down note by making only 1 of 18 3-pointers in postseason play.

Still, Krzyzewski reflected with only positive vibes.

“At the end of a year you do this,” Krzyewski said. “There can be a little bit of you that wants it to be over and you fight it. And in some years, every once in a while, not too often, you just want the damn thing to be over. And there’s not one part of me that wants this season to be over. I’m fresh. I love my guys. They were terrific, and they won 30 games with an unbelievable schedule.

We got beat by a better team, and we beat a lot of really good teams. I just think that they did a great job this year. I’m proud of my team.”

Next year’s Blue Devils will look different both in personnel and style.

Point guard Quinn Cook returns for his junior season as will 6-4 guard Rasheed Sulaimon, who averaged 11 points per game as a freshman. They’ll make up the experienced part of Duke’s backcourt that will trigger an athletic lineup.

“It’s been a great season for all of us,” Cook said. “We were one step closer to the Final Four. But all of our guys coming back will use it as motivation and, the three seniors, it has been a joy playing with those guys.”

Next season, guard Tyler Thornton and forward Josh Hairston will be counted upon for senior leadership.

They were part of an ACC Tournament championship team as freshmen and will look to add a banner next season using lessons learned from Plumlee, Kelly and Curry.

“These three guys have been unbelievable all year long,” Hairston said. “Coming off the year we had last year, the tone they set with workouts as soon as the season is over. It set a pace for us with how we were going to be this year. You hate to see them to out with anything but a ring on their finger. At this time we have to look at what we’ve accomplished as a team. We’ve had a great year. I love the three of them to death.”

Replacing the three seniors on the roster will be three talented freshmen — 6-4 shooting guard Matt Jones, 6-6 forward Semi Ojeleye and 6-8 forward Jabari Parker. Each of the three is ranked as a 5-star prospect on 0 to 5 scale by Scout.com.

Having gained experience despite not playing in games this season, Hood is ready to contribute to Duke’s success next season.

“It’s going to mean the world to me,” Hood said. “It drives me every single day to get out there. I just can’t wait to play for my team.”

Among other returning players who could see extensive playing time next season will be 6-foot-11 redshirt  Marshall Plumlee and 6-8 redshirt Alex Murphy, both rising sophomores, and 6-8 rising sophomore Amile Jefferson.

NOTES — Shooting guard Andre Dawkins, who sat out this season, is eligible to return to the roster as a senior in 2013-14, but no announcement has been made about his status. He is also reportedly on track to graduate at the end of this semester.