So how has Duke gone from ranking as high as number five nationally to being considered an also ran? There's no easy answer other than the fact that since January 28th the men's basketball program hasn't won a game. In case you have been completely oblivious to the sports world since then, that's four consecutive ACC losses to Virginia, Florida State, North Carolina, Maryland respectively.
The first two games of the streak seemed stagger Duke, but for 30 minutes against the ACC's most talented team it seemed as though the vintage Blue Devils were back, but their legs left them and North Carolina rallied from a 10 point second half deficit to win going away in Cameron. At that point the wave of negative momentum appeared to be gaining strength, a theory that was confirmed as what is considered a very average Maryland team somehow resembled their glory days of 2002 against an overmatched group of Blue Devils.
Now, a day removed from their disasterous trip to College Park, Duke is back on the practice court with hopes of salvaging the remainder of the season - something that won't be easy with remaining road games at North Carolina, Clemson, and Boston College. And home games against Georgia Tech and Maryland.
There's an out of conference game that should be winnable against St. John's in Madison Square Garden, but aside from that it's fair to assume that Duke will not be more than a three point favorite in any of the five remaining conference tilts. More likely, Duke will be the decided underdog in the majority of the five.
While many will point towards Duke's competitive nature in the three losses prior to Maryland, the fact is that the Blue Devils' offense is the major culprit. And while it may be late in the season, it's certainly not too late for some tweaks and adjustments since the current ideals aren't producing the kinds of results those in and around the Duke program have grown accustom to.
One of the most noticable changes in the Blue Devil attack has been the emphasis placed on the shooting of sophomore point guard Greg Paulus and freshman wing guard Jon Scheyer. Leading up to the four game slide, Scheyer had averaged 12.0 points per night while attempting 8.3 shots from the field and 4.2 free throws. Meanwhile Paulus, despite his injuries, had scored 8.6 points per game while attempting 6.4 field goals and 1.8 free throws.
Over the last four games Scheyer's scoring output has been 13.3 points per game, ballooned a 26 point outburst against North Carolina that nearly won his team the game. For that extra 1.3 points per night, the freshman is only attempting an average of 1.4 more shots per game from the field, and 0.3 more attempts from the free throw line. But, as with the points balloon offered by the Carolina game in which he took 18 shots from the floor, Scheyer has taken a total of 21 shots in the other three.
From a percentage standpoint, Scheyer has only seen his shooting dip minimally. Before the streak he was shooting 40% from the field overall and 37% from the perimeter. Over the last four games he's hit for 38% from the field, but only 30% from the perimeter. Again, however, the North Carolina game skews those numbers as he hit 4-of-10 from beyond the arc and 8-of-18 from the field. In the other three? Try 33% from the field (7-of-21) and 23% from the perimeter (3-of-13).
That roller coaster output is to be expected from any freshman not named Kevin Durant, and is no doubt magnified by the Duke spotlight. But is it too much to ask of the reigning Illinois Player of the Year in his first season?
A similar query could be made of Paulus, who led the ACC in assists a season ago. As a sophomore the New York native struggled early in the season, and has adopted the role of combo guard as his health has returned. In just 25 games this year Paulus has already scored as many points as he did all of last season and has seen a spike in his offensive numbers in the last month.
During Duke's four game slide, Paulus has been called upon to take an average of 13.3 shots per game - a full five more than his season average through the first 21 contests. With five attempts per game, he's scoring nearly twice as many points (15.0).
Like Scheyer, Paulus had a huge game in a losing effort - scoring a game high 23 points to nearly carry Duke to a victory over Florida State at home. And, like Scheyer's night against UNC, that game seriously skews some telling numbers. Against the Seminoles Paulus shot extremely well, hitting 8-of-13 from the field and 4-of-6 from the perimeter. In the remaining three games, however, he managed to convert just 13-of-40 from the field (33%) and 5-of-16 (31%) from the perimeter.
In 21 games Duke's starting backcourt duo averaged 14.7 shots combined while scoring 20.6 points per game. Over the four game losing streak Scheyer and Paulus have combined for 23.0 shots per game and a scoring average of 28.3 points per night. That equates to 0.93 points per shot increase over the first two thirds of the season.
In the post, sophomore Josh McRoberts' numbers have remained consistent aside from the North Carolina game where the big man scored just six points on five field goal attempts. A full five fewer shots than he had averaged on the season. That lack of attempts was balanced out against Virginia when McRoberts converted seven of his season high 18 shot attempts.
Despite getting his usual number of attempts, and shooting a similar percentage from the field, McRoberts hasn't been as involved in the offense as the back court has begun to hunt their shots. During Duke's four game slide he's recorded just 6.5 rebounds (down nearly 1.8 rebounds per game from his season average), but the real slide has been in the number of assists logged by the versatile forward. Without the ball in his hands as much, McRoberts has averaged just 1.3 assists per game over the last four - 3.7 per game fewer than his first 21 appearances.
Junior DeMarcus Nelson had been averaging 14.5 points per night on and average of 10.7 field goal attempts per night before the slide that has relegated him to the the sixth man role. Since that time he's scored 12.5 points per game on 11.0 shots - though that number is front loaded with a combined 29 shots taken against Virginia and Florida State and a total of just 15 attempts against North Carolina and Maryland.
Perhaps the biggest shortcoming for the Blue Devils throughout these last few games has been the inability to get consistent scoring from anyone other than the aforementioned quartet, which has been anything short of reliable on a nightly basis. There have certainly been flashes of brilliance - most notably by Gerald Henderson, whose 14 point night against the Tar Heels was a career high in points. That 6-of-13 performance in Cameron was, unfortunately, equal to his combined contribution over the other three games in this stretch.
It hasn't been any easier for classmate Lance Thomas, who has struggled mightily since logging nine points and four rebounds in 20 minutes in Charlottesville. In the three games after Sean Singletary started this slide for Duke, Thomas hasn't connected on a field goal in a combined 40 minutes of action, and has scored just a single point. The 6'8 forward has battled not only opposing front courts, but also turnover problems. In fact his turnover to assist ratio at this point in the season a historic 40 to 1.
In the middle Duke has gotten some positive energy minutes from Brian Zoubek, but not much in the way of inside scoring. After scoring in 17 and 18 points in two of his first three college games, the 7'1 New Jersey product has been hard to find in the Blue Devil rotation - logging 22 combined minutes during the four game slide. In that time he's averaged only 1.5 rebounds, but the real concern is the big man's lack of touches inside. Since January 14th Zoubek has failed to convert a field goal attempt - though, in fairness, he's only attempted four shots in the last month.
As Duke continues to struggle through a back loaded ACC schedule, the emphasis on finding any kind of consistency on the offensive end will be a top priority. While statistics don't always tell the whole story, they can certainly be used to point out some of the problems - and Duke is in the fortunate position to have a Hall of Famer on the bench looking to work them out.