From The Stands: Duke v. Va Tech

Simply put, it was one of the worst performances put forth by a Duke team in this modern era of Blue Devil dominance over the ACC. While those subscribing to the <I>Chicken Little</I> mode of thinking will declare that era now over with a loss to Virginia Tech, there is still a modicum of hope that head coach Mike Krzyzewski will rally his troops. Still, losing to Virginia Tech is something that should never happen, but it did on Thursday and <I>TDD</I> examines the carnage.

What Went Wrong:

- For most of the season the Blue Devils have relied on the three headed attack of Shelden Williams, Daniel Ewing, and J.J. Redick. That held true on Thursday, but this time all three struggled mightily from the floor. Without at least two of them playing well, Duke was vulnerable on the offensive end and it showed. Perhaps it's a case of minutes catching up with the trio, or perhaps it's just a really bad time for a mid-season slump. Either way Duke has no margin for error with those players. All struggled last night.

- The most notable struggles came when Duke was unable to deliver a knockout punch midway through the second half. Leading by seven, it seemed as though the Blue Devils were poised to put this one away. However, Duke fired up a three just 12 seconds into the possession. Virginia Tech scored. Duke turned it over. Virginia Tech scored again, forcing Duke to take a timeout. From there the momentum had turned as Virginia Tech would take the lead three minutes later. Had Duke been able to convert on those key possessions, it would have bumped the lead to a more comfortable margin and taken the crowd out of the game. Instead the Hokies took the momentum back and turned the energy back on inside the arena.

- Offensive troubles continue to plague this team, and it would seem that opponents have figured out what it will take to beat Duke this year. Without a steadying hand at the point guard position, the Blue Devils' motion offense has too often lacked any sense of flow. Gone is the pretty ball movement of the past. Gone is the perimeter's ability to make the extra pass to a wide-open man. Instead Duke has a pair of shooting guards with a perpetual green light that never dims. When the shots are falling it's terrific and Duke is as dangerous as anyone in the country. When the shots aren't falling, upperclassmen should adjust and improve their shot selection, one of them did that as J.J. Redick handed out a team high five assists. But, as a whole, the starting backcourt hit just 12-of-30 on the night and 5-of-16 from the perimeter. One thing that is obvious is that off the dribble neither Redick or Daniel Ewing see the floor as well as Chris Duhon did a year ago. That's not a knock as both are shooting guards, but it's still got the ability to bite the Blue Devils.

- While it's easy to assign blame to the perimeter players, it must be noted that inside, Duke wasn't getting the usual production out of Shelden Williams, who air balled several close attempts and dribbled into trouble more last night than he has all season. Several times the big man found himself under, or behind, the basket with a double or triple team surrounding him. He would then either attempt a low percentage shot, or he would look for an open man to pass to, which is the correct play. The problem Williams quickly found was that his teammates were not moving and trying to give him a clear passing lane – instead, just standing.

- Leaving the post players along inside was a common theme on the night, especially when it came to rebounding the basketball. Despite the poor shooting. Despite some questionable shot selections. Despite most of the team being "off" from the field, if Duke rebounds they beat Tech. Unfortunately that didn't happen as the Hokies rolled to a 45-27 advantage on the boards. Simply put, you can't win against good teams with a –18 rebound margin. And you can't win against a team of Tech's caliber either.

- While no one other than the Duke coaching staff knows what goes on behind closed doors at practice, it's troubling that the Blue Devils have all but forgotten about freshman DeMarcus Nelson ever since he put the Devils over the top against North Carolina. On this night the freshman, who is the team's second best rebounder, played just four minutes and had his warm ups on down the stretch. With all that Nelson brings to the table, it's a wonder why he doesn't get more run at this crucial point in the season, especially when the starting backcourt isn't playing well, but is logging tremendous amounts of minutes.

- Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the loss has nothing to do with execution. Nor shots not falling. Instead, the real question is how is this team 18-4 on the season. Had that record been predicted before the season, many Duke fans would have been thrilled. However, the fact that three of the four losses have come to inferior teams is most discouraging. Against Maryland and Virginia Tech, Duke didn't come out and play with the fire and passion that had been a hallmark of each Blue Devil team during this great run. Suddenly we find a team that struggles to match the intensity level of their opponents, and is ultimately hanging bad loss after bad loss. Call it a lack of leadership on the court if you will, but someone needs to step up and lead this team. Someone needs to step up and become an extension of Coach K on the floor. Without that, this team's season is down to single digits in terms of remaining games.

What Went Right

- Lost on all the negativity is the realization that Duke actually defended Virginia Tech very well for most of the night. Despite several point blank looks and put backs off of offensive rebounds, the Hokies shot just 39% for the game. If you take out those second chance points, the Blue Devils actually held the Hokies closer to 35% for the game, which is good enough to win…provided there is some semblance of a rebounding presence inside.

- Despite the offense having no real fluidity for most of the night, the Blue Devils only coughed up a turnover eight times on the night.

- The return of Reggie Love was a positive as the reserve tallied 19 minutes and four rebounds while adding a put-back basket. It's not much, but it was very productive when you combine that with Shavlik Randolph's first half performance (3-of-4 shooting, 6 points, 2 rebounds). If Duke can split time with those two players at the four and get between 8-10 points and 6-10 rebounds, it's a success.

Player of the Game:

Though he didn't get recognized for his efforts by the announcers, Sean Dockery was Duke's most consistent player last night. The junior earned seven points, four rebounds, and two assists while failing to commit any turnovers the entire night. For his efforts, Dockery is our TDD Player of the Game.

Food for Thought

This loss has pretty much ended any hopes of another ACC regular season title in Durham, and with five regular season games remaining, including battles with Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, and North Carolina, not to mention an upstart Miami team, Duke is in serious danger of stumbling into March Madness. With four losses in their last seven games, the Blue Devils will need to win at least two of those conference tilts to have a chance at a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Still, given the wacky way in which this ACC season has played out, there's no reason Duke can't get it together earn some big wins to close out the season. Certainly it's going to take a lot of work, but Krzyzewski has done more with less in the past.

Next Play

Duke has no time to lick their wounds, nor dwell on last night's game as Wake Forest comes to town, smelling blood in the water. The Deacons handled Duke with ease last time for most of the game before J.J. Redick caught fire towards the end of regulation and nearly brought Duke all the way back before losing 92-89 in Winston. To have a chance against the Deacons, Duke simply must rebound. Not just occasionally, but on every shot, and on both ends of the floor. Without that effort, Duke's in trouble.

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