I started looking at a ranking of the last 25 NCAA men’s basketball champions recently, and my favorite team of that era — the 2010 Duke Blue Devils — showed up 24th, which irked me enough to stop going through the list. Here’s where it’s probably relevant to mention that I attended Duke from 2007-2011.
It’s unsurprising that a team that produced Mason Plumlee as its best NBA player doesn’t fare so well from a historical reckoning, and it’s that level of talent that likely prompted Mike Krzyzewski to change course this decade towards a new kind of Duke team. As a result, the Blue Devils that begin the NCAA Tournament on Friday couldn’t be less like their 2010 counterparts, save for some familiar faces on the sideline.
The current iteration of Duke starts four freshman, while the 2010 crew had two first-year players getting sparse amounts of bench minutes. That team had three senior starters, and this team’s fourth-years are so anonymous that they couldn’t even get on the court during senior night.
But most importantly, the Blue Devils of 2010 were regarded much like the teams that had preceded them in Krzyzewski’s tenure; they were hated, even without the star power of Christian Laettner or Shane Battier. It didn’t take a Cinderella like Butler to make Duke a villain — that title was already implicit. Now, Zion Williamson and co. are a villain insofar as the uniforms they wear, but there’s a likability that this team possesses that is not normal for a Blue Devils squad. And though it is nice to not constantly have to defend my particular rooting interests, it does feel a little strange.