This season, the Duke Blue Devils brought back a talented roster and added the #1 recruiting class in the country. Some people questioned out loud if this Duke team would lose a single game. Things have not gone according to plan.
Duke currently sits at (14-4) overall and just (2-3) in ACC play after losing on the road twice in the past week. In fact, all three of Duke’s ACC losses have come on the road (@VT, @FSU, @LOU). However, losing on the road early in the conference schedule is a time-honored Blue Devil tradition; it’s not the cause of Duke’s woes. Duke fans: are you worried yet?
On the podcast for the last month we have basically been saying “Duke is still putting the pieces together, they’ll be great soon, the Death Star is almost fully operational” Now, we aren’t so sure anymore. And judging by some of the reactions to the Louisville loss on Twitter, many Blue Devil fans are in the same boat.
No one is receiving more criticism than Jayson Tatum. In 31 minutes on Saturday he went 3-11 from the floor with 4 fouls and 3 turnovers. Murmurs of “ballhog” arose on Twitter. Yes, Tatum had a bad game and forced some shots. But Duke was going against maybe the best defense in college basketball without Coach K. And other than Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard, who was going to score for Duke?
This is a team with incredible depth on paper that is currently very shallow. As of today, Giles, Bolden, DeLaurier, and Jeter aren’t ready to contribute much. Add that to a hobbled Amile Jefferson and a lack of a true point guard and it’s easy to see how Duke has struggled. Oh, AND COACH K ISN’T THERE. K is the best coach in college basketball and it isn’t even close. Even with this sudden lack of depth Coach K would probably have found a way to win at least one of those aforementioned road games. With his absence, those shortcomings become more glaring.
It’s only natural that Tatum, the #2 recruit in the country last year, would revert to a more immature style of play. He’s a freshman that has been the best player on every team he’s ever been on. He looked around Saturday, realized the team needed him to do more, and tried to do too much. On the road, against an incredible defense. It should come as no surprise that things didn’t turn out great.
Even with the injuries and lack of lineup continuity, Duke certainly didn’t expect to be 2-3 in ACC play. The question is, where will the Blue Devils go from here? Looking at the schedule, Duke has home games coming up against Miami and NC State. The Blue Devils struggled mightily defensively against Louisville ball screens and have a history of struggling with Miami for the same reason. For argument’s sake, let’s say Duke loses to the Hurricanes. Duke would be 2-4 in the ACC at that point. But a win against NC State and the return of Coach K and hopefully Amile Jefferson should turn things around from there.
One thing remains certain; Duke needs to figure things out, and figure it out fast. With tough road games @Notre Dame, UVA, Miami, and UNC remaining, Duke could have 8 ACC losses. Then you still have to factor in @Wake and tough home games against UNC and Florida State. The ACC is a meat grinder this year and as unfathomable as it would be for Duke to have a .500 or worse ACC record this season, the potential is there. With 13 ACC games remaining, only 5 are comfortable wins. The schedule, more than the obvious weaknesses of the team at this point in the season, is the real reason to worry… if you’re the worrying type.
Doom and Gloom is not our style here at the Triangle and 2. Even with the turmoil, Duke is still the 11th best team in the country according to KenPom, and our guy Ken knows a little bit about college basketball. Despite the eye test of the past week, there’s no way this Duke team, with all of its talent, doesn’t find a way to turn things around, right? Grayson Allen will blossom into the point guard that Duke needs, Luke Kennard (a podcast favorite) will continue to play out of his mind, and under the steady guidance of Coach K Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum will find their rightful place in the Blue Devil juggernaut. And if shots aren’t falling, Amile Jefferson will clean up the boards. Right?
Chances are, water will find its level and come mid-March Duke will be the best team in the country. It just might be a more bumpy road than Blue Devil fans were anticipating coming in to this season. Here’s to hoping that Duke will turn things around. We were promised that this would be a special season in the Triangle and right now only Carolina is holding up its end of the bargain. We remain cautiously optimistic.