Everything was going smoothly for the Blue Devils, and it looked like that would remain the case as they avoided playing a ranked ACC team in the first four conference games. Since the 23-point win at home over Boston College nearly two weeks ago, though, it’s been tough treading for the team with nine McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster.
Duke travelled to Winston-Salem to take on a young and developing team under first-year coach Danny Manning. The Demon Deacons scrapped their way to a tie game with 2 minutes remaining, but the Blue Devils found a way to win. Just a close call in the first ACC road game of the season, right? All parties assumed Coach K’s squad would be back to blowing out opponents with its three freshman stars in no time.
Then came N.C. State. In Raleigh, the Blue Devils suffered their first loss of the season, finally going cold from outside and not knowing how to overcome an off night. The loss was bound to happen at some point, though. Just an off night from the floor.
What on earth is wrong with Duke?
As is often the case, this team was not quite as good as it appeared in the early going and is not in as much trouble as the blowout loss to Miami at Cameron Indoor Stadium might suggest. That being said, there are some glaring issues.
First, they were relying too heavily on the outside shot. It works pretty well most of the time when Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones are the ones heaving and making those shots, but it’s a dangerous game to play in the rigorous ACC. Second, this team is still full of freshmen who are developing, and they’ve reacted to the sudden downturn from beyond the arc like freshmen.
When shots weren’t falling, Duke began force feeding Jahlil Okafor down low too often, at times making him seem like the only option on the court. The Blue Devils became one-dimensional, and this high-octane offense suddenly became easy to stop.
However, the biggest problem lies on the other end of the court. The difference between Duke and the other top teams in the country is that it does not have an elite defense to fall back on when the offense struggles. Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones are deadly three-point shooters, but they’ve allowed opponents to shoot over 50 percent from beyond the arc in the last two losses. N.C. State and Miami took a combined 56 free throws en route to scoring 87 and 90 points respectively against the Blue Devils.
The maturation on the offensive end will come quickly. Coach K will have them more composed when things break down in no time. Long term, only fixing the offensive woes could mean plenty of wins and even an ACC title.
But continued problems on defense would still make Duke vulnerable on any given night, especially in that tournament where these Blue Devils have a history of surprising exits against hot-shooting foes.