There will be questions about how it came apart so fast in the second half. Perhaps the Blue Devils needed more time for freshman guard Kyrie Irving to work back into the lineup so that would go smoothly. Irving was productive with 28 points in the final game, including 9-for-15 shooting from the field. But he took one more shot than ACC Player of the Year Nolan Smith, who made only 3 of 14 attempts from the field and finished with eight points.
So despite the stellar careers put forth by Smith and classmate Kyle Singler, they only once were members of teams that advanced past the Sweet 16. That came with the 2010 national title.
Singler's career ended with a steady 18-point, 8-rebound performance, but his foul trouble limited him on the defensive end.
Duke's 32-5 record included three losses in the final nine games. Even the return of Irving to the NCAA Tournament after he missed more than three months with a toe injury wasn't enough to keep the Blue Devils on track.
-- The Blue Devils had a chance to pull away from Arizona in the first half of the West Region semifinal, but some mild foul trouble and Arizona's Derrick Williams prevented that. So a six-point halftime lead wasn't nearly enough for top-seeded Duke as the fifth-seeded Wildcats burst ahead and kept on going in a 93-77 victory that sent the defending national champions out of the NCAA Tournament. It marked the end of the college careers of senior F Kyle Singler (18 points) and senior G Nolan Smith (8 points).
-- Duke's loss to Arizona left coach Mike Krzyzewski with 900 career wins, two away from Bob Knight's record 902. With Duke scheduled to participate in the Maui Invitational in November, Krzyzewski could be in line for the record at another faraway locale. Speaking of that tournament, it will be a chance to play more neutral-court games. The setback to Arizona ended the Blue Devils' streak of 22 consecutive neutral-court victories.
-- Freshman G Kyrie Irving had a solid game in the stunning loss to Arizona with 28 points. But the most pressing questions after the game turned to his future and whether he'll remain at Duke or head to the NBA, where he's projected to be one of the top draft picks if he decides to enter the draft. He scored in double figures in all 11 games he played as a freshman.
--A recent ESPN documentary on Michigan's "Fab Five" and comments made by some of those former players in reference to Duke provided a backdrop for the NCAA Tournament meeting that decided a Sweet 16 berth. But Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski deflected attention from the issue. "To me you've got to be in this moment, not in somebody else's moment," Krzyzewski said. "... That has nothing to do with what we're doing here."
--Duke has had the ACC Player of the Year in 14 different seasons, including 10 times under coach Mike Krzyzewski after senior G Nolan Smith's selection this year. It's that kind of star power that continues to make Duke players perhaps the most recognizable to many fans and opponents when the NCAA Tournament begins.
COACH: Mike Krzyzewski, 31st year at Duke, 27th year in NCAA Tournament, four national championships.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Blue Devils will be well-stocked in 2011-12, but they won't have the senior experience that they relied on so much this season. Depending on the path taken by freshman G Kyrie Irving, the Blue Devils could be vastly different, though they should be solid in the post positions with the return of F Mason Plumlee, F Ryan Kelly and C Miles Plumlee. It's reasonable to point out that the Blue Devils were ranked No. 1 in the country at a point deep into this season and won the ACC Tournament championship without Irving, so not everything hung on Irving's contributions. With the addition of recruit Austin Rivers, the Blue Devils should receive an instant boost to the backcourt, which will lose ACC Player of the Year Nolan Smith but returns Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins for their junior seasons. There will be players on next season's team that experience the highs of the national title and the low of Thursday's loss.