Duke tried to send off Mike Krzyzewski in style on March 5 in his final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, but North Carolina routed the Blue Devils, 94-81.
Duke tried to send off Krzyzewski in style on Saturday in his final ACC Tournament game, but Virginia Tech routed the Blue Devils, 82-67.
All that was awful news if you are Duke fan and wonderful news if you are among the many who root against Duke out of habit formed over several decades.
But either way, it was good theater, which is why the most compelling storyline entering the 2022 NCAA men’s basketball tournament is whether Coach K can avoid striking out for a third consecutive farewell.
This is especially true for casual fans of college basketball, who might not know Paolo Banchero if they ran into him on a layup line but know all about Krzyzewski, who has been at Duke since Jimmy Carter was President.
So, here we go: Krzyzewski needs six victories in a row to avoid another unhappy ending, and this quest will be much harder to achieve than the first two.
Duke (28-6) was fortunate to secure the last of the No. 2 seeds after that loss to Virginia Tech at Barclays Center, but that does not mean it has an easy path to the Final Four in New Orleans.
The other top four seeds in their region are No. 1 overall Gonzaga – which Duke beat in November – Texas Tech and Arkansas.
And there will be no cushy East Coast Sweet 16 for the Blue Devils. They are in the West Region and will have to win twice in San Francisco to make it to the national semifinals.
First things first: They start close to home on Friday against Cal-State Fullerton in Greenville, South Carolina.
After the loss to hated North Carolina with a who’s who of Duke alumni at Cameron, a frustrated Krzyzewski took the mic and apologized for an "unacceptable" performance. He vowed better to come, and Duke fans seemed to believe him.
After North Carolina lost in Friday’s semifinals to Virginia Tech, the secondary market was flooded with tickets at plummeting prices, and Duke fans swooped in.
It appeared at least 80% of folks walking around Barclays were wearing Duke attire. But Virginia Teach offered a textbook example of experience winning out over undeveloped talent in the college game.
Storm Murphy, a 23-year-old transfer point guard, ran circles around Duke. Hunter Cattoor, age 21, scored a career-high 31 points and senior Keve Aluma, who is 23, added 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Duke’s best player is Banchero, who is 19 and will probably be starting his fourth NBA season around the time he turns 23.
That is part of what makes Duke a bad bet to win it all, despite Krzyzewski’s resume. One-and-done programs too often are done too soon to be counted on.
But who knows? That is the fun of the event, in this case with the bonus of a love-them-or-hate-them program such as the Blue Devils.
If Krzyzewski goes out a winner, it will be a dramatic capper to a great career. If he does not, social media will have a field day with memes of sad Dukies in the stands.
It’s all a lot to ask of a team that starts three freshmen. Twice the pressure of giving Krzyzewski a proper farewell has seemed too much of a burden to bear.
Krzyzewski has tried to be supportive and to make it not about him even if the rest of the world has other ideas.
"I tell them all the time, don’t ever worry about me," he said Saturday night. "I want to be in their moment. Even in a moment of defeat, I want to be in that moment with them. Like it’s our moment together. How do we use it? How do we get better?
"If you’re always thinking about the last game or whatever, you can’t get into that moment. We never talk about it at all. Last weekend [at Cameron] the whole world was talking about it, and so it was difficult."
Now there no longer is a safety net. One loss, and Coach K is done.