"V" Is For Vulnerable

After roaring out to a 13-1 start and a No. 5 national ranking, many Duke faithful were ready to cruise to yet another top of the table finish in the ACC. However, just a few days after the conference opener those thoughts are long gone.

Perhaps it was an aberration. Perhaps the Blue Devils just had one of those games. Blue Devil fans certainly hope that is the case, but the unpopular reality is that for the first time in years Duke looked extremely vulnerable against a Virginia Tech team whose record was anything but awe inspiring.

The Hokies certainly did what they had to do to earn the victory, but the Blue Devils certainly didn't help their own cause - especially in the second half and overtime when Duke shot just 8-of-16 from the free throw line. That included just 6-of-12 from the team's captain, and best player, Josh McRoberts.

Then there were the turnovers, 22 of them in total, which combined to prevent the offense from ever kicking in and finding the needed rhythm. The problems were magnified down the stretch as Duke continually lost out on chances to grab control.

"There were a lot of chances that we had down the stretch and we didn't get good shots," said junior captain DeMarcus Nelson. "We turned the ball over, and there were a lot of missed free throws. There were a lot of things that we did today to shoot ourselves in the foot. That's what really hurts the most about this loss."

Nelson finished with a game high 22 points and five rebounds, but also committed four turnovers. Meanwhile, fellow captain McRoberts logged a career high six turnovers - one more than the number of field goals he hit (5). Still, the 6-foot-10 sophomore redeemed those half dozen miscues with 16 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks.

The combined 10 turnovers from the two best players on the roster would normally draw the attention of those looking for catalyst for such a difficult loss. Unfortunately it was the play of the third tri-captain that stood out the most to both fans and coaches.

Sophomore Greg Paulus, who had seemingly rebounded from severe early season struggles, logged the worst statistical performance of his Duke career - 0 points, 0-for-3 from the field (all from the perimeter), 1 rebound, 1 assist, six turnovers, and 2 fouls in 18 minutes. Things were so off for him, that head coach Mike Krzyzewski was forced to bench him in favor of freshman combo guard Jon Scheyer. Something K had hoped to avoid at this point in the season as it further slowed an already sputtering Blue Devil attack.

"It's not just the turnovers, it's that is who we practice with so if he's not on the court then you put different guys in different positions and you don't want to be doing that stuff in the ACC," said Krzyzewski of his decision to pull Paulus. "You don't want your wide receiver playing quarterback. It was obviously not a good game for him."

So where does Saturday leave the Blue Devils?

The easy answer is at the bottom of the ACC standings and facing down a pair of road games against Georgia Tech and Miami. In case you're scoring at home, that's a pair of teams with explosive backcourts and high major athleticism - a combination that has spelled trouble for this young team throughout the season. Unfortunately this isn't the pre-conference schedule and Duke isn't in a position to host a couple of cupcakes to implement some new wrinkles into the gameplan. It's the extremely unforgiving ACC, and this is a team that already has a huge bullseye on their chests courtesy of those teams that have come before them. It's a message that Kryzewski will no doubt repeat throughout the season.

"We all need to be hungry again. In this decade we have won about 85 percent of our games -- a lot more than anybody. We are not those teams or that Duke. Everyone just has to be hungrier [in order to be successful]. [Against Virginia Tech], we didn't have leadership offensively the whole game."

For better or worse that leadership has to come from the point guard position under the Krzyzewski system. It always has. That was crystal clear on Saturday afternoon when even a below average game from Paulus would have Duke sitting at 1-0 in the conference on the strength of their defensive prowess. Instead the Blue Devils looked nothing short of vulnerable. And the rest of the ACC has likely taken notice.


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