Duke's storied hoops program has always been stocked with talented players who craved the spotlight, who wanted to be "The Man," from Christian Laettner to Shane Battier to J.J. Redick. This year that wasn't the case.
Josh McRoberts, despite finishing with a career-high 22 points and a dozen rebounds, was never willing to accept his role as the go-to guy. He was too unselfish — and too fearful. Off the court, he was even less willing to accept the responsibility of being the face of the Duke program.
Junior shooting guard DeMarcus Nelson, the team's lone upperclassman, was erratic and didn't display any significant leadership qualities. Greg Paulus was a leader and willing to take the big shot, but was inconsistent and unable to get his teammates to follow.
The run of nine consecutive Sweet 16 appearances came to an abrupt, but not unexpected end in the first-round loss to VCU. It was only fitting that the No. 6 Blue Devils were the first legitimate upset victim of this year's Big Dance.
The Blue Devils entered the game on a three-game losing streak and their confidence was clearly shaken. They struggled throughout the entire season — offensively in the early portion and defensively in the latter part of the year.
Nothing came easy. It was a task just to get past teams like Holy Cross, George Mason and Kent State in Cameron. They needed a five-game winning streak in the middle of the ACC campaign just to secure a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Duke was unable to put the Colonial Athletic Association's elite team away on Thursday night despite having a double-digit lead midway through the second half.
It wasn't all because of talent, either. This team never had the chemistry. They didn't click.
They aren't the type of team to hang out with one another off the court and it showed when they took the floor.
While Paulus and McRoberts stepped up against VCU, the rest of the team performed a virtual disappearing act. Freshman Jon Scheyer, the team's most adept perimeter shooter, was invisible throughout the second half run that allowed Anthony Grant's team to get back into the game.
Nelson didn't do anything, either.
Despite still boasting a half-dozen former McDonald's All-Americans and having more than enough talent to get into the Sweet 16, the Blue Devils were missing more than just experience.
Duke won't go .500 in the ACC play and make it two straight years bowing out in the first round, whether McRoberts returns or decides to leave for the NBA. They will welcome in 6-foot-8 Kyle Singler, arguably the best all-around player in the country. He's talented enough to become the focal point of the offense from the moment he steps on campus in Durham.
Nolan Smith, a terrific defender, will give Coach K another solid ballhandler to either spell or team with Paulus in the backcourt. Taylor King will also give the Blue Devils a much-needed perimeter shooter.
It's clear to see that Duke won't be down for long, but this year Duke is history.