Three words that were bandied about the Internet and otherwise following Duke’s second straight blowout loss. After being down by 19 with five minutes to against NC State, Duke once against flirted with a 20 point deficit against Miami…but this time the game was taking place in Cameron Indoor.
Whether or not you were shocked to see the nation’s fourth ranked team taken to the woodshed by a squad that Eastern Kentucky beat by 28, it’s fair to say that the last seven days have change the various narratives surrounding this Duke squad. Following the team’s win over Boston College - it’s 13th on the season - all by double figures, the Blue Devils were tested, but ultimately beat Wake Forest in Winston Salem.
Since then the wheels have apparently come off as both the Wolfpack and Hurricanes have not only beaten Duke, they’ve embarrassed the Blue Devils. Each team deserves credit for their performances though both got a lot of help from Coach K’s youthful bunch which all of a sudden can’t shoot or score as they had before. Accordingly, the Blue Devils aren’t able to mask their defensive deficiencies.
“In the ACC if you draw stats up, we’d probably be shooting 37%, and you can’t win doing that,” said Krzyzewski after the loss to Miami. “We’re just not as confident as we have been. I think that’s part of being young.”
And Duke is, without a doubt, a young team. Three freshmen start, and the team only returns one starter from last year’s team which went out in the NCAA Tournament’s first round. But those freshmen aren’t your ordinary group of newcomers. At least they aren’t supposed to be. Jahlil Okafor is the presumptive National Player of the Year and likely top pick in June’s NBA Draft. Justise Winslow is projected to go somewhere between five and 10, and Tyus Jones is considered a first round pick and the top floor general coming to college.
And yet, despite all the raw talent and pre-college pedigree, these young Blue Devils look and sometimes act their age. When a shot doesn’t fall, heads have been dropping. When an opponent hits a ridiculous fallaway or contested look, the shoulders have sagged. And when Duke has needed a response…it hasn’t come.
For his part, Krzyzewski doesn’t seem to believe there are issues with chemistry or attitude. For the coach stuck on 997 career wins, the problems come down to things that can only be fixed with experience.
““We have good effort. Our guys came to play. They’ve practiced well. I just don’t think we’re confident right now. I’m not saying we have no confidence. Confident when we shoot it. I just don’t see it. I don’t feel it, and that happens. It can happen to a baseball team with hitting, and I think it can happen with a younger group more than an older group. If that had happened to a veteran team, they’re going to play harder defensively or rebound and execute.”
If there was ever a time for Duke to start acting like a veteran group, it’s now. The Blue Devils head to Louisville on Saturday to face the No. 6 Cardinals - a team that will play as tough a defense as this group will see this side of Virginia - which, as a matter of fact, will be another game on the road with no return date in Cameron.
So, Duke has two days of practice before a travel day to identify the problems and apply some kind of fix. That’s a very truncated timetable, and listening to Krzyzewski examine the post Miami carnage provided an idea of just how big this job may be.
“I just have felt since Christmas that there’s something missing with our group, and I’ve said it. I’ve said to the press. I’ve said it to my team, and when you’re still winning, you don’t necessarily believe it completely, but I’ve felt it since Christmas. I haven’t been able to figure out how to change it. We’re all on the same page now after two losses, and after getting our butt beat.”
“This wasn’t the vision that we had but this is reality,” said Amile Jefferson. “We’ve got to find a way to get better. We’re a good team and we know we’re a good team, but that’s not good enough – just being a good team. We have to do the tough things, dirty things, we’ve got to get up in guys, and we’ve got to get back to the way we were playing. It’s tough to do that. We’ve got a couple of days off, but it doesn’t get any easier, the teams don’t get any easier, road games don’t get any easier. We’ve got to figure it out – together.”
But, even if Duke can’t figure it out totally in Kentucky this weekend, they can take solace in the fact that a season ago eventual national champion Connecticut lost by 23 to the Cardinals on the road. But, together they figured it out by working through the challenges and meeting them head on over the remainder of the season. That’s the Blue Devils’ challenge now.
“We’re going to be fine,” Quinn Cook told the gaggle of reporters on Tuesday. “We’re going to take the hit, take all the negativity that we’re going to get, take it in stride, and just move on.”
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