Why this Duke loss will haunt Coach Krzyzewski more than any other

WASHINGTON – Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has won five national titles and is etched firmly on the sport's Mount Rushmore. He would’ve been elected to the basketball hall of fame back when Zion Williamson was still in diapers. Short of reaching John Wooden's unreachable record of 10 NCAA titles, he's accomplished everything possible in the sport.

It's arguable that no team Krzyzewski has had in his 44-year career contained the high-end talent of this edition of Duke, with three likely top-five picks and four projected first-rounders. They've put forth one of the most entertaining, compelling and dominating seasons that we've seen in recent college basketball history, which is why No. 2 Michigan State outslugging No. 1 Duke, 68-67, in the Elite Eight on Saturday will haunt Krzyzewski.

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WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 31: Nick Ward #44 and Kenny Goins #25 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrate their teams 68-67 win over the Duke Blue Devils in the East Regional game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 31: Tre Jones #3 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after his teams 68-67 loss to the Michigan State Spartans in the East Regional game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Michigan State guard Cassius Winston, right, celebrates with teammates Matt McQuaid (20), Nick Ward (44) and Gabe Brown (13) after defeating Duke in an NCAA men's East Regional final college basketball game in Washington, Sunday, March 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Auburn's Anfernee McLemore, left, blocks a shot by Kentucky's PJ Washington during the second half of the Midwest Regional final game in the NCAA men's College basketball tournament Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 30: Brandon Clarke #15 and Rui Hachimura #21 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs compete for the ball against Norense Odiase #32 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders during the first half of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at Honda Center on March 30, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 30: Davide Moretti #25 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders fights for the ball against Josh Perkins #13 and Jeremy Jones #22 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the second half of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at Honda Center on March 30, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 30: Tariq Owens #11 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders celebrates after defeating the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at Honda Center on March 30, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - MARCH 30: De'Andre Hunter #12 of the Virginia Cavaliers battles for a loose ball with Grady Eifert #24 of the Purdue Boilermakers during the first half of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 30, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - MARCH 30: Mamadi Diakite #25 of the Virginia Cavaliers celebrates after making a game-tying shot over Matt Haarms #32 of the Purdue Boilermakers to extend the game to overtime as time expires in the second half of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 30, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - MARCH 31: Ashton Hagans #2 of the Kentucky Wildcats reacts during the first half against the Auburn Tigers during the 2019 NCAA Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at Sprint Center on March 31, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - MARCH 31: PJ Washington #25 of the Kentucky Wildcats passes the ball against Austin Wiley #50 and Danjel Purifoy #3 of the Auburn Tigers during the 2019 NCAA Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at Sprint Center on March 31, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Auburn's Jared Harper, left, drives to the basket past Kentucky's Reid Travis during the first half of the Midwest Regional final game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Auburn's Anfernee McLemore (24) and Kentucky's Reid Travis (22) reach for a rebound during the first half of the Midwest Regional final game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Virginia head coach Tony Bennett celebrates after defeating Purdue 80-75 in overtime of the men's NCAA Tournament college basketball South Regional final game, Saturday, March 30, 2019, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Purdue's Trevion Williams (50) puts up a shot against Virginia's Jack Salt (33) during the second half of the men's NCAA Tournament college basketball South Regional final game, Saturday, March 30, 2019, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Virginia's De'Andre Hunter dribbles past Purdue's Grady Eifert (24) during the first half of the men's NCAA Tournament college basketball South Regional final game, Saturday, March 30, 2019, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura scores against Texas Tech during the first half of a men's NCAA Tournament college basketball West Regional final game Saturday, March 30, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Texas Tech celebrates after the team scored against Gonzaga during the second half of the West Regional final in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Saturday, March 30, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Virginia's Mamadi Diakite, center, reacts with teammates Kyle Guy and Jack Salt (33) after hitting a shot to send the game into overtime in the men's NCAA Tournament college basketball South Regional final game against Purdue, Saturday, March 30, 2019, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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With inevitable No. 1 pick Zion Williamson as the cornerstone and flanked by likely top-five picks RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish, this is a Duke team that will be generational touchstone for high-end talent.

And that's why this will be remembered as the biggest missed opportunity of Krzyzewski's career.

Krzyzewski, 72, will likely build more title contenders at Duke and could well go on to win another championship. But he's not going to coach the college basketball version of The Beatles again. Krzyzewski's age puts him firmly in his twilight, and this edition of Duke may end up as his final truly elite team.

In the dwindling years of the one-and-done era, it's hard to imagine Duke – or anyone, really – compiling as robust of a collection of high-end talent as these Blue Devils, who finished short of the Final Four. When asked about the missed opportunity this roster will come to represent, Krzyzewski didn't flinch.

"To me it's disappointing," he said. "It's not a [disappointing] year. Like, there's a big difference. Like, this team put themselves in a position to go for it and had a chance for it. And, so, it's disappointing that they didn't get there. But I'm proud of them."

Williamson could well go down as the last truly transcendent college basketball star. As the sport evolves and talent turns professional instead of going to college, its new faces will be comets like Murray State's Ja Morant and Texas Tech's Jarrett Culver. College basketball will be a sport of overlooked late bloomers who blaze unexpectedly.

Williamson all but said he's leaving for the NBA after the game, which is about as obvious as the color of the White House. The same is expected for Barrett and Reddish, who'll both be gone in the NBA's top five. And that's why this game will linger with Krzyzewski, as the loss came to a Michigan State team flashing the same tenets Coach K's teams used to embody – defense, consistency and decision making. (Tom Izzo improved to 2-11 in his career against Duke.)

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ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 28: Tariq Owens #11 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders celebrates after a dunk against the Michigan Wolverines during the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at Honda Center on March 28, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - MARCH 28: Carsen Edwards #3 of the Purdue Boilermakers goes up for a layup against Admiral Schofield #5 of the Tennessee Volunteers during overtime of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at the KFC YUM! Center on March 28, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - MARCH 28: Mamadi Diakite #25 of the Virginia Cavaliers gets in a scuffle with Ehab Amin #4 of the Oregon Ducks during the second half of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at the KFC YUM! Center on March 28, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 28: Rui Hachimura #21 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs dunks the ball against Mfiondu Kabengele #25 of the Florida State Seminoles during the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at Honda Center on March 28, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Purdue center Matt Haarms celebrates during overtime of a men's NCAA Tournament college basketball South Regional semifinal game against Tennessee Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Louisville, Ky. Purdue won 99-94. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Michigan guard Charles Matthews, left, and guard Jordan Poole leave the court after the team's loss to Texas Tech during an NCAA men's college basketball tournament West Region semifinal Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Texas Tech forward Deshawn Corprew, middle, reaches for a loose ball between Michigan guard Zavier Simpson, left, and guard Charles Matthews during the first half an NCAA men's college basketball tournament West Region semifinal Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Florida State guard Trent Forrest, left, blocks a shot by Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell Jr. during the second half an NCAA men's college basketball tournament West Region semifinal Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Purdue's Ryan Cline (14) and Carsen Edwards celebrate after defeating Tennessee 99-94 in overtime of a men's NCAA Tournament college basketball South Regional semifinal game Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman (23) beats out LSU forward Darius Days (22) for the loose ball during the first half of an East Regional semifinal in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Friday, March 29, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Auburn's Chuma Okeke yells out in pain after being injured during the second half of a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game against North Carolina Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
North Carolina's Seventh Woods, left, and Kenny Williams pause near the end of a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game against Auburn Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Michigan State forward Gabe Brown (13) and teammates react after he scored against LSU guard Marlon Taylor (14) during the second half of a semifinal in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament East Region in Washington, Friday, March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Auburn's Anfernee McLemore celebrates at the end of the first half of a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game against North Carolina Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Auburn's Chuma Okeke (5) grabs his leg as he loses control of the ball on his way to the basket as North Carolina's Cameron Johnson (13) and North Carolina's Brandon Robinson, left, defend during the second half of a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. Okeke was injured on the play. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Auburn's Danjel Purifoy (3) and Austin Wiley (50) celebrate near the end of a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game against North Carolina Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 29: Ahmed Hill #13 of the Virginia Tech Hokies reacts after missing a layup against the Duke Blue Devils late in the second half in the East Regional game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 29, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 29: Ahmed Hill #13 of the Virginia Tech Hokies reacts after missing a layup against the Duke Blue Devils late in the second half in the East Regional game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 29, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - MARCH 29: Anfernee McLemore #24 of the Auburn Tigers celebrates against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the 2019 NCAA Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at Sprint Center on March 29, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - MARCH 29: Brandon Robinson #4 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after being defeated by the Auburn Tigers 97-80 during the 2019 NCAA Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at Sprint Center on March 29, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - MARCH 29: Brandon Robinson #4 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts against the Auburn Tigers during the 2019 NCAA Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at Sprint Center on March 29, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Duke guard Tre Jones (3) reacts after scoring against Virginia Tech during the second half of an NCAA men's college basketball tournament East Region semifinal in Washington, Friday, March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Kentucky's Immanuel Quickley celebrates as time expires in a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game against Houston Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Virginia Tech guard Ahmed Hill (13) celebrates after scoring, next to Duke forward Zion Williamson (1) during the first half of an NCAA men's college basketball tournament East Region semifinal in Washington, Friday, March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Auburn's Danjel Purifoy (3) and Austin Wiley (50) celebrate near the end of a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game against North Carolina Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Houston's Galen Robinson Jr. (25) walks off the court as Kentucky celebrates in the background following a men's NCAA tournament college basketball Midwest Regional semifinal game Friday, March 29, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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The caliber of Duke's young talent failed to overcome the roster's lack of depth and the inconsistency bred from injuries. And on Sunday, after 16 lead changes and seven ties, Duke couldn't overcome a Herculean effort from Michigan State point guard Cassius Winston and a clutch 3-pointer from Kenny Goins to win the game with 34 seconds left.

Fittingly, it was Winston dribbling out the game's final seconds as Duke failed to foul trailing by a point. Winston sprinted away from Williamson, the final snapshot of a day where they just couldn't keep up with his 20 points, 10 assists, four steals and just one turnover.

Krzyzewski kept going back to Winston – the MSU star junior's experience, his decisions, his resolve. Krzyzewski heaped infinite praise on Winston, calling him, "the best guard we've played against." He doubled down on nearly a half-century of coaching to say Winston had "as good a performance as any player has had against us."

When Duke won the national title in 2015, it highlighted Krzyzewski's coaching paradigm shift. That team featured Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones, all of whom skipped through Durham for a year before ending up being picked in the top 25 of the NBA draft.

At that Final Four, Krzyzewski bristled at the notion of Duke mimicking the blueprint of Kentucky's program. But in reality, they stole Kentucky's gameplan and got better at it, with this team's 32 victories and No. 1 overall seed the supposed culmination of an evolution.

"This season has been a movie, honestly," Williamson said amid the last cluster of cameras he'll face in a college locker room. "Lights, camera, action, basically. Like ever since we arrived here on campus."

But Duke couldn't deliver the Disney ending, which isn't altogether unsurprising considering that the one-and-done era is on the cusp of being remembered as unkind to teams with title aspirations who've relied too heavily on that model. Kentucky's 2012 title team and Duke's in 2015 are the only championship teams that would have been considered primarily reliant on freshmen.

The one-and-done era essentially began after the NBA stopped allowing high schoolers to enter the league following the 2005 draft. In that time, Villanova's model of building through veterans, defense and a culture of player development has proven more successful.

There are only two or three seasons left of one-and-dones in college hoops, which in part forced Coach K to excoriate the NCAA here this weekend for its lack of preparedness for what college basketball will look like when it no longer is a landing spot for the most elite talent. How will things work when top high school players declare for the draft and don't get picked? Will agent rules evolve? Will the NCAA tournament's billions be siphoned to the players in some form so they compete with the NBA and G League for elite talent?

These are all questions that need to be answered soon. But it also speaks to a potential inflection point for Krzyzewski's career. He's essentially been able to run Duke like USA Basketball for the past five seasons, with more of a focus on identifying and managing top players.

He'll be around 75 when the system changes back over, and it's hard to imagine him attempting to revert back and try to keep Duke elite on what's expected to be a much more level playing field. I ran this notion by Duke AD Kevin White in Washington this week, and he dismissed it.

"He's the king of re-invention, that's why he's so darn successful," White said. "I have not seen him challenged by an evolution or set of evolving circumstances that he's not been able to accommodate. He's a master at figuring out next play, next opportunity based on a rapidly changing landscape."

To decree this season a failure would be too bold. But it was clearly a missed opportunity, and perhaps Coach K's last chance to coach a juggernaut to the national title. There will never be another Duke team under Krzyzewski with as much high-end talent as this one, which will fill Krzyzewski with as much regret as any loss in his career.

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