Jeff Capel’s postgame press conference Monday night lasted all of two minutes, from “Give them credit” to “That’s easy,” at which point he got up and left. It’s a rare occasion when Mike Krzyzewski’s opening statement doesn’t last longer than that.
It wasn’t that Capel had nothing to say, just that no one had anything to ask.
It was almost as if he had suddenly become irrelevant.
That was certainly the uninformed consensus of the online cognoscenti, which started floating Mike Brey’s name as a more likely successor to Krzyzewski after Duke lost at home to N.C. State for the first time in 22 years Monday, an 84-82 loss to the same team that lost by 51 at North Carolina.
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If not Brey, then Steve Wojciechowski. Or Chris Collins. And so on.
The reality for Duke is that Capel remains the best man for the (eventual) job when Krzyzewski decides to step aside, regardless of his 3-3 record in relief, including last year’s win at Georgia Tech. The problems Duke had Monday night – inattention to defense and offensive impatience – all plagued this Duke team long before Krzyzewski went under the knife, including the loss at Virginia Tech. That Capel hasn’t been able to fix them in his five games in charge this season is less an indictment of him than it is the team he and Krzyzewski have assembled, with its all-too-obvious flaws and not-very-hidden chemistry issues.
The talent is there, though. Duke may yet emerge as the powerhouse it has shown signs of being at times – and this discussion probably wouldn’t be happening if the Blue Devils hadn’t gone 8-for-28 from 3-point range against the worst defensive team in the ACC, or if N.C. State had shot as poorly from the free-throw line as it did in Saturday’s home loss to Wake Forest. But it’s not there yet, not even close, and Duke would almost certainly would be in the exact same shape if Krzyzewski had been fully engaged the entire time given the general lack of commitment at the defensive end and colliding priorities on offense.
Since his return to Duke, Capel has played an absolutely pivotal role in the program, especially in recruiting, and the 2015 national title almost certainly never happens without his contributions. He remains the most logical and best positioned person to pick up where Krzyzewski leaves off, just as he is just as much to blame as Krzyzewski for the failure to solve – so far – the inherent issues with this Duke team.
Capel’s having trouble navigating the present, just like everyone else at Duke, but he remains the best option for the future.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock