RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Duke’s latest one-and-done could be followed by another one of an entirely different kind.
After losing their NCAA tournament opener for the second time in three years, the Blue Devils can only hope their star freshman doesn’t turn pro after one season.
Duke began the season as a legitimate favorite to reach their 12th Final Four under coach Mike Krzyzewski.
But the only game they have left is the waiting game until freshman Jabari Parker — and redshirt sophomore transfer Rodney Hood — figure out their future plans.
It had long been believed that Duke was merely a pit stop for Parker on his way to the NBA.
He says he hasn’t decided anything yet and neither has Hood, a transfer from Mississippi State.
“I thought I’d be playing after today,” Hood said after the 78-71 loss to Mercer.
This Duke team drew comparisons to some of those teams of the past, built around Parker and Hood and hoping to replicate the baseline-to-baseline, up-tempo style of the group that Shane Battier led to a national championship in 2001.
“We (were) a very unconventional team this year, in that the only time we had an inside presence is if Jabari was really strong inside and he did that a lot,” Krzyzewski said. “But that’s not really what he does. That’s not his strength. And so we’re always not real strong inside.”
That hurt them and led to reminders of other rather forgettable years.
Duke (26-9) finished with the most losses since the 2006-07 team wound up 26-11. These Blue Devils had a No. 3 seed in this NCAA tournament — their worst seeding since that team went one-and-done as a No. 6 seed and fell to Virginia Commonwealth.
And Duke ends the season with its first losing streak since the 2011-12 team lost its final two games, including a stunner to No. 15 seed Lehigh that still stands as one of the biggest upsets in tournament history.
That also was the last Duke team with a one-and-done player — Austin Rivers, now with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Now he’ll share something with Parker, should the freshman phenom turn pro in the coming weeks, as has long been expected.
Many of those losses had one distressing common thread: A late-game fade.
Away from the cozy confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium, these Blue Devils had trouble finishing. They finished 4-5 in true road games and wilted in the second halves of losses at Clemson, North Carolina and Wake Forest — giving up 17 straight points down the stretch to the Demon Deacons.
The final moments of the Mercer loss looked like a replay of that. Duke led 63-58 with 5 minutes to play before allowing the precision-passing Bears to reel off a 20-5 run and take a 10-point lead in the final seconds.
“Those swings that we have sometimes produced losses,” Krzyzewski said, “and (against Mercer), they produced a loss.”
And the Blue Devils were lucky to only have nine of them.
They needed a free throw with 5 seconds left — and a last-second miss — to avoid a home loss to Vermont in November. They needed a lucky bounce on a late 3-pointer to beat Virginia in January. They needed a late charging call — and a meltdown by Jim Boeheim — to beat Syracuse at home in February.
Don’t feel too sorry for the Blue Devils, though. They don’t rebuild; they reload.
Even if they lose Hood and Parker to the pros, they’ve got a recruiting class with four five-star players already signed up — headed by center Jahlil Okafor, point guard Tyus Jones and shooting guard Grayson Allen.
Still, with six long months until preseason practice begins, there’s plenty of time to wonder what might have been.
“That’s sad for us. You know, it’s sad for” Hood and Parker, Krzyzewski said. “We’ve won a lot of games where they’ve been terrific and I’ve loved coaching them and I feel bad for them, because … we all have to live with that.”
Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joedyap
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