Duke began the season 18-1, and shot up to the top spot in the top 25 polls. The Blue Devils played efficient offensively, while shooting the ball well from the field. The Blue Devils’ trademark pressure defense made opponents go into offensive dry spells.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who undoubtedly is one of the greatest basketball minds of all time, again worked his magic placing the Blue Devils among the nation’s elite.
But since a 85-44 rout over Maryland on Jan. 24, Duke has lost four of its last six games and doesn’t resemble a team that appear can make a Final Four run next month.
Nevertheless, with six games left in the regular season, Duke has time to regain its early season form. But the Blue Devils must go into the postseason play with better momentum than they’ve had in the past two years.
The Blue Devils went 4-6 in their last 10 games of the 2006-07 season, lost in the first round of the ACC tournament to NC State and was bounced by Virginia Commonwealth in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Duke went 4-3 down the stretch last season, then were beaten by Clemson in the ACC tournament semifinals and lost to West Virginia in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
If the Blue Devils are going to be peaking when they step on the floor in the 2009 ACC tournament, Duke would have done it on the road. Duke’s four of their remaining six conference games are away from Cameron Indoor.
The Blue Devils have lost their last three road games, including Sunday’s 80-74 loss at Boston College. Duke fans should see their squad break out of their road woes with a matchup against St. John tonight at Madison Square Garden.
However, a loss to one of the Big East’s weaker teams would keep Duke in its tailspin. The Blue Devils are looking at tougher matchups against unranked Virginia Tech and Florida State, as well as, No. 8 Wake Forest and No. 3 North Carolina.
After losses to UNC and BC, does Coach K crew really have the personnel to be a legitimate national contender?
Duke’s roster is full of McDonald’s All-Americans, but the Blue Devils have the same glaring problems they’ve faced over the past couple years.
Duke appears to struggle against athletic or bigger teams, which was the case in trying to guard North Carolina’s Ty Lawson. The lighting-quick point guard had his way with Duke’s backcourt by continuously beating the Blue Devils’ defenders with dribble penetration, and scored 21 of his game-high 25 points in the second half to help UNC rally to win.
The Tigers’ frontcourt led by Trevor Booker’s 21 points helped Clemson out-muscle the Blue Devils’ smallish frontline, and the 74-47 loss was the Blue Devils’ worst defeat in 18 years.
Duke still hasn’t found a point guard in the mode of former stars Bobby Hurley, William Avery or Jason Williams. Starter Greg Paulus is adequate, but hasn’t stepped up lately. He scored eight points and only had three assists against the Heels and only two points and two assists against the Eagles.
Duke needs more production out of Paulus and backup Nolan Smith to help forwards Kyle Singler, Gerald Henderson Jr. and Lance Thomas. The Blue Devils must continue to rely on their guards and forwards to come up big offensively because they getting little or no offensive production from the center position.
Brian Zoubek, who is listed at 7-foot-1, is the only true presence in the middle. However, Zoubek is a limited scorer and rebounder.
With Singler, Henderson and Thomas all listed at 6-foot-8, Duke gives up size in the interior and rebounding against beefier teams.
With a lack of an inside game, the Blue Devils morph into a one-dimensional jump-shooting team and become too dependent on the 3-point shot. Duke went 3-for-13 from the 3-point arc in the Clemson game, 8-for-24 against UNC and 3-for-16 versus BC.
The over-reliance of shooting beyond the arc was evident in those losses. When you live by the 3, you also die by the 3. If Duke can’t a find some solutions to its problems, another quick exit from tournament action appears to be on the horizon.
n Contact sports reporter Corey Davis at 997-3111, ext. 44; e-mail email@example.com