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The preseason #1 ranked team suffered a key injury to their point guard and ended up falling short of their expectations by not even making it to the Final Four. Am I talking about this year’s UNC team with Marshall or last year’s Duke team with Irving? I understand that UNC fans might complain more heavily because Marshall’s injury kept him out of two tournament games, while Irving’s injury only kept him out for the majority of the regular season. That’s fine if you want to make that argument, but regardless both injuries severely hurt their team in a way that won’t soon be forgotten.
Duke had a chance to go back to back, and with Irving that team would likely had a better #1 seed (not out West) and a more favorable path to the Final Four. There I would have liked to seen Duke play teams like VCU, Butler, Uconn or Kentucky. With Irving playing all year, I have no doubt that Nolan Smith and him would have learned to compliment each other to easily form the best backcourt in the NCAA. Duke’s season went down with Irving’s toe injury.
The same can be said about UNC. With Marshall that team makes it to the title game. They might have been a little disinterested in the regular season, and the team only really played up to their ability in one game (at Duke), but this team had talent and the ability to raise their game higher than any other team. I have my doubts about UNC beating Kentucky, but anyone that thinks that it would be an easy Kentucky win can’t use *talent as the reason why.
The comparison between the 2011 Duke team and the 2012 UNC team is one of the reasons that the Duke-UNC rivalry is so much fun. Things tend to even out between these two rivals. UNC won the title in 2009, and then Duke matched them in 2010. UNC had the Doherty years (my favorite was 2001-2002), while Duke had the Gaudet year. UNC has a list of players in the NBA with great careers and so does Duke. I’m a Duke fan, who finds it very difficult to say anything nice about any UNC players or coaches, but objectively speaking they are more similar than different. That is why it always confuses me why so many people get joy out of Duke losing without giving a second thought to UNC. I am fine with you hoping Duke losses, but at least give the same treatment to UNC.
Was this season a success for Duke? The answer would seem to be an obvious no. The team didn’t win the ACC regular season or tournament titles. The team not only didn’t make it to the Final Four, but they lost in first round against a 15 seed from the Patriot League. The team’s biggest two pro prospects (Austin Rivers and Mason Plumlee) would rather be bench players in the NBA than play another year in Durham. Two of the team’s primary scoring options (Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry) both fell short of expectations. The team had an impressive run in Hawaii, and two season defining wins at UNC and Florida State. However, this team played poorly in March and will be remembered as a failure.
Regardless, the season can’t be judged by just looking at Duke. The comparison between Duke and UNC is there for a reason and because of that I am actually happy with how this season went. UNC was supposed to have an all-time team. Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller all passed on the NBA to come back for one more year. They lost in the Elite 8. They had a chance to be an all-time great time, but through poor play and bad luck they lost. Maybe it seems a little strange, but the way the season started I am fine with how this season ended for Duke.