Following another tough road loss to Clemson on Saturday, Duke’s fifth loss on the season, the AP and Coaches polls for men’s basketball have a startling omission. For the first time since the 2020-2021 season, Duke is unranked in both polls. In fact, according to the AP poll and votes received, Duke slid all the way to 33rd place.
That’s a far cry from the preseason top-ten rankings. Ranking teams like Duke stacked with big recruiting classes is always tough. While on paper, the talent is undeniably there in Durham, it’s nearly impossible to project how the incoming freshmen will develop over the course of the season. Team chemistry is always a challenge, too. This is head coach Jon Scheyer’s first year leading the Blue Devils, so this may not be entirely unexpected. However, Scheyer has spent several years as an assistant in the Duke program, years in which they basically took the “one and done” blueprint from Kentucky and consistently challenged the Wildcats for the top class.
Can Duke Turn Things Around?
The 2023 is far from over. Heck, we’re basically just past the halfway point. So, there’s still plenty of time to turn things around. Perhaps some tempered expectations are just what the young squad needs. With the spotlight off of the program, they’ll have some more room to develop. Contrast that with some high-profile failures in the NCAA tournament in recent years. The agonizing loss to arch-rival UNC in last year’s Final Four looms large, but even the Elite Eight performance by the 2019 team is viewed by many as an example of underperformance. That team did have #1 NBA draft pick Zion Williamson on it, after all. Not to mention a couple of other first-round picks in RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish.
The trend in college basketball has been to “get old” for the past couple of seasons. Teams like Baylor and Kansas, the past two champions, have exemplified the success of this strategy. Duke has attempted to mix their top recruits with accomplished transfers like Ryan Young, but so far the results have fallen short of program standards. Maybe Scheyer will pick activity up in the transfer portal in 2023.