In case you’ve missed the last few months of college basketball, Duke has probably the best three players in college basketball with Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Cam Reddish. These three contribute to making Duke the best team in college basketball for the 2018-2019 season. If you’ve been following college hoops, you already knew all of this. Despite how talented and successful this team is, they’ll likely not win the NCAA tournament, and they don’t need to.
What I find interesting about all this hype and talk around the Duke program is that they don’t need to win the NCAA tournament. The tournament is a joke for teams like Duke with a bunch of one and done stars. These guys already have NBA teams ready to give them a contract come June, they just needed to do something with their time from the time they graduated high school until they were allowed to go into the league. Play basketball, stay healthy, improve some skills, is pretty much the extent of what these guys are trying to do in that one year of “amateur” playing.
As long as Coach K continues to recruit the top talent that will inevitably go to the league after one year, Duke will remain relevant. Not only relevant, but ranked in the top 25, hovering around number 1 for most of the year. Yeah, the program is probably going to be fine. Donors are still going to give money. The program name will still carry weight and prestige as a blue blood. Branding and the general familiarity the public has with the Duke program will remain top-notch. Basically, the program can and will survive without the team winning the NCAA tournament. Fans will continue to support the team, especially when players continue to go into the NBA. Nothing like bragging about how great the team you support is and how many players went into the league. That’s a twofer for fans and the program.
The future of the Duke basketball program likely does not include many more NCAA championships, if we’re being honest. The factors that come into play when it’s tournament time lowers the odds of Duke winning the whole thing. Yet, the program will remain a force in college hoops as long as the one and done rule stays in place with a few five-star recruits on their roster. Duke doesn’t really need the NCAA at this point to get their name known, the NCAA needs Duke for the revenue more than anything. The revenue generated off of college hoops in general offers leniency when it comes to tournament time. No matter how poorly these elite teams perform, they’ll still have recognition, massive income, and top talent. People will continue to pay to watch elite teams like Duke, especially when they perform well all season leading up to the tournament.
Also, just to throw this out here when it comes to the players and the tournament. Do you really think that these guys don’t know that their future resides in their body performing at 100% to get drafted with a great contract? What gain is there in making it all the way through the tournament, getting injured and then losing any prospect of going pro? I’m not saying they’re going to under perform in the tournament, but I am saying that they’re going to try their best to avoid injury which may mean not playing in the most sacrificial way. And coaches with job security like Mike Krzyzewski understand that there’s something bigger than the NCAA tournament for their players. Of course they want to win the tournament and gloat, at the same time your program looks very attractive to new recruits if you’re sending guys into the league every year who then become bag droppers for the program.