Can't write off this flawed Duke team yet

Lack of size, lack of defense, and an offense that burns white hot or is extremely cold. It all makes for a maddening cocktail of basketball that could result in Duke making a Final Four run or going home this weekend.

All those things that bother you about this Duke team, all the nagging issues that give you doubts about its NCAA Tournament potential, all came to the fore in the Blue Devils' loss to Virginia on Sunday.

The defense faltered again in the second half, allowing the Cavaliers to hit 13 of 24 shots and score 44 points in the final 20 minutes. And when UVa wasn't making shots from the field, it was heading to the line – shooting 24 free throws in the second half and 38 overall. The Blue Devils were unable to stay in front of Malcolm Brogdon, couldn't seem to hang with Joe Harris as he raced around screens and struggled mightily to contain Anthony Gill in the low post.

Those fears about Duke's lack of interior size? They seemed well founded against a UVa team that could throw Gil, Akil Mitchell (15 rebounds), Mike Tobey and Darion Atkins out on the floor at various times.

As we wrote yesterday, the Blue Devils' offensive firepower has the capability of covering up those flaws, but it has to be operating at full capacity against elite opponents. As wildly entertaining as it was to watch Jabari Parker go to work in the second half, even he needs some help from the supporting cast.

To be sure, Rodney Hood is a worthy sidekick to Parker, but at times – and the UVa game was one of them – he can turn passive in the face of physicality and then seem to lose confidence when his first few shots don't fall.

Meanwhile, Rasheed Sulaimon's roller-coaster season continued. He pulled a virtual 180 from his strong semifinal showing, making just 1 of 6 shots. And once again, he struggled to contain his frustrations, snapping at Parker several times before eventually letting loose a tirade at an official that led to a technical and his fifth foul.

Suliamon and Quinn Cook combined for 30 points against N.C. State. They mustered just seven against Virginia.

And yet …

Despite the litany of mistakes and shortcomings, the Blue Devils went toe to toe with the ACC's top team – a No. 1 seed and one of the hottest squads in the country. The lead changed hands eight times. There were seven ties. The Cavaliers didn't go in front for good until a Malcolm Brogdon basket with 5:50 remaining.

And so the storyline of this Duke season remains the same. The flaws of this team continue to maddening, but the potential is still intoxicating.

If just one part of that lengthy list of reasons for defeat was different – if Hood had been more productive, if Duke could have kept UVa off the offensive glass, etc. – then the Blue Devils are claiming yet another ACC title, they're heading into the NCAA Tournament with momentum and confidence and the talking heads are gushing about how this Duke team is perhaps the most dangerous squad in the field of 68.

But that didn't happen. Instead, this continues to be the rare Mike Krzyzewski team that just can't seem to reach its ceiling.

And yet …

With Parker, the array of other offensive weapons around him, and Krzyzewski on the bench, you don't have to perform too many mental gymnastics to imagine another deep tournament run by the Blue Devils.

But given the flaws that were once again exposed on Sunday, an early tournament exit by this Duke team would not come as a shock either.


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