Let me preface this by saying my level of vitriol may a tad higher than usual because I’m writing this minutes after Duke loses to MD in their first and last game of the ACC Tournament game, 83-74.Â I love my team, and I love how they playâ€¦usually, but there is no excuse for the way this Duke team played in this game.Â It’s been a comedy of errors for this team to do the most basic of actions as a ball club – MATCH THE INTENSITY OF THE TEAM YOU ARE PLAYING.Â These are things that, as a fan, enrage me.Â I could go through statistics, and maybe I will later, but numbers are just numbers.Â What truly tells the tale of a defeat that should never have happened is demeanor, desire, and decision-making.Â Duke did none of that well.
Defensively, this team is a little more than suspect.Â A team that looked so strong at the beginning of the year let a bubble team run them out of the gym, a gym in North Carolina no less.Â As much as I defend Duke’s lack of non-conference road games, it’s hard when they come out and struggle against a not very solid MD team on a somewhat neutral floor.Â I saw no fire in their eyes, nothing but a team that seemed like they expected to get beaten, like they had better places to be.Â Maybe that place is the NCAA Tournament, but momentum isn’t something you can flip on with a switch.Â If you can’t get hyped up to win your league, well, that is a problem.
To spend an entire season getting beaten off the dribble and still, at the very end of the season, not have an answer for it is maddening, truly.Â No adjustments have been made.Â I love Coach K and I’ve grown up watching and idolizing this coaching, but to not at least utilize some zone with this team is beyond me.Â There was no hesitation using it when he coached the Olympic team, why not at very least have it in your back pocket against teams that clearly have an advantage off the dribble?Â Man-to-man, I understand, is the staple of a Duke team, but it’s unrealistic to think that employing some other defensive principles could hurt this team.
3 point shots are not going to fall every game, that’s just the law of averages, but there is an entire space between the arc and the basket that Duke seems to avoid.Â Just chucking it up from the outside isn’t always the recipe for a comeback.Â When there is still a good amount of time left on the clock, why not force the issue, get easier shots, get to the line?
The blueprint for beating this team isn’t a mystery, it isn’t some complex mathematical equation.Â Spread ’em out, drive the ball to the middle, take it strong or kick to shootersâ€¦very simple stuff.Â Keep Duke off of the 3 point line, and you have a puncher’s chance of beating them.Â Yes, MD played a great game, but Duke gave them quite a bit of help.Â Defense is meant to be aggressive, and stout.Â You impose your will on the other team’s offense, you don’t let them ride roughshod over your defense.Â Know your weaknesses and adjust, its more than just personnel, its desire and moving your feet.Â It seems that Duke is continually rolling out the welcome mat for teams in the lane, and it’s not going to be a very good outcome in the NCAA tournament if there isn’t drastic improvement.Â I understand that you aren’t always going to get match-ups that put you at a disadvantage, but part of what you learn through the course of a season is to overcome those disadvantages.
And my God, rebounding.Â Yes, I understand MD had some beefy bigs on their team but to not even attempt box-outs on every shot is insane.Â If you are not a strong rebounding team, at the very least you need to learn good box-out technique and positioning.Â It’s just as important to box-out as it is not to turn the ball over, it’s about valuing the ball.Â Duke’s last NCAA championship team hung their hats on recycling possessions.Â If this team could embody that trait, games like tonight wouldn’t happen.Â It’s desire, and this team showed exactly none of that tonight.Â To lose the rebounding battle by 10 isn’t an acceptable outcome for a team that prides itself on its history, its fire, its intensity.
How is Duke going to move forward in this tournament playing 7 players?Â I know it’s possible, and it’s been done before, but this team looked absolutely gassed at times and with Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy sitting on the bench, I’m not sure there’s harm in giving them more time.Â Murphy in particular could have possibly made a difference should he get to spell Ryan Kelly.Â Murphy has a similar skill set and with the starters seemingly mentally checked out, why not give the freshmen a look?Â Jefferson, while not big, is a player that can worm his way to the basket, perhaps provide more of a low post presence and at very least be a length defender against MD’s strong guards on switches.Â I’m not a coach, these are just thoughts that run through the head of a person who isn’t privy to practices and isn’t in the huddle.
Duke was in a word, flat.Â Not crisp, not sharp, not intense in this game and it showed.Â I’m not sure how you get a team to be hungry that should be hungry.Â I’m not sure it’s something you can teach.Â But MD had it, they were a phenomenal team tonight.Â They shot lights out and played like a team that not only had no fear, but knew they were going to win.Â They were the aggressors.Â Dez Wells was the beast that Mark Turgeon has been expecting and hoping he would be.Â He’s hit his stride and has come alive in this tournament.Â Wells would lead all scorers with 30 points and would play like he owned the court.Â Duke had no answers.Â As I mentioned in my post before the game, I wondered how Duke would defend the surging Wells, and it looks like Duke is still wondering how to get that done.Â I predicted that Seth Allen would probably be big for the Terps and I was right, not so much a star, but Allen was steady and dropped 10 points on Duke and also had 5 assists.Â Defensively, Allen was strong and stout and helped keep the Devils off of the 3 point line.Â As bad as Duke was offensively (16.0% from 3 point range), they were probably worse defensively.Â Consistently beaten off the dribble and at times just outmuscled in the paint, Duke had no means of counterpunching.Â Duke would need much more production from Ryan Kelly, who was visibly tired as he still works himself back into game shape.Â Kelly would score only 8 points and would go 0-6 from 3 point range.Â Quinn Cook also had little success against the Terps.Â Cook had 9 points off of 4-of-10 shooting and would only dish 2 assists.Â Not the game we needed from the sophomore guard.Â Mason Plumee did have 19 points for Duke, and pulled down 7 rebounds, but he did have 4 of the team’s 6 turnovers.Â Duke did have surges in the second half, but could never take the lead against the Terps.Â Duke was never quite able to get over the hump and never looked completely dialed in.Â I’m no coach, and I have no idea how one shakes a team out of these types of episodes, but as Coach K mentioned in his press conference, “Look, I do this, this is what I do.”
The positivesâ€¦hmmm, hard to glean positives from a loss but at very least they will be a fresh team for the tournament, but one has to wonder about the mental state of the team.Â They have been through a lot of transition this year and I do wonder if the mental fatigue is catching up with them.Â Hopefully a week off will do them some good.Â Hopefully the fire that was lacking in this game gets stoked, sitting and watching other teams continue on can be a really big motivator.
Duke got a much more focused and strong effort from Rasheed Sulaimon who went 6-for-12 for 16 points for Duke, Duke played probably one of its worst games of the season and still had a chance in the second half to tie and take the lead in this game.
We still have the best coach in the land and there isn’t a situation he hasn’t seen, been through, and conquered.Â With Coach K at the helm, we always have a distinct advantage.
Unlike playing a grueling conference schedule, once we get to the tourney, teams will be a little less familiar with Duke’s inner workings.Â Playing teams 2 and 3 times gives them a vey comfortable knowledge of your tendencies and personnel, and that sort of familiarity catches up to teams eventually.
Duke rarely plays bad games in a row and this loss gives the team ample reason to get noses to grindstone and the coaching staff has an abundance of things to work on and correct.
WE STILL DANCIN’ THO!