The entire sports world was struggling to function as the world was dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and college basketball was one of the worst hit. On December 8, 2020, Duke lost handily to Illinois in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and went on a rant in the post-game press conference. He felt the season needed a pause as the student-athletes were having to deal with a lot just to get these games in. Part of his comments:
“Basically, it was more of a mentality of, ‘Get as many games in as possible.’ And I think I would just like, just for the safety, the mental health and physical health of our players and staff, for there… like, to assess where we’re at. You know, in our country today, you have 2000 deaths a day. You know, you have 200,000 cases, a million and a half last week. You have people saying that the next six weeks are going to be the worst. To me, it’s already pretty bad. And on the other side of it there are these vaccines that are coming out, that people say that by the end of the month, 20 million vaccine shots will be given, especially to our health care, to the people who need it. And by the end of January or February, another 100 million. Well, should we not reassess that? You know, just see what would be best?”
In his comments he even admits that the timing looked bad since Duke was coming off a loss and their 2-2 record was underwhelming. At that point, the Blue Devils had a game against Gardner-Webb postponed and against Elon canceled. Two days after the Illinois game, Krzyzewski announced that Duke would cancel its remaining non-conference games which drew groans from fans around the sport. While there was certainly a lot of merit to what he was saying, many didn’t like the timing of these announcements and the appearance of him going away from what other programs were doing.
It didn’t get much better for Duke. They saw highly touted freshman Jalen Johnson quit the team mid-season, the team sat at 7-8 record and Cameron Indoor Stadium was eerily quiet with no fans allowed at games. Despite finishing 10th in ACC play, the Blue Devils would beat Boston College and Louisville in the conference tournament before a COVID outbreak within the team caused them to forfeit their game against Florida State. Duke missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995.