Struggling Duke looks for answers
Saddled with a losing ACC record and the threat of a rare disappearance from the nation’s top 25, Duke doesn’t get time to fret over its predicament.
Still stinging from a disheartening 72-59 loss at Clemson on Saturday, No. 16 Duke returns to ACC play against Virginia tonight (7 p.m, ESPN) at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The Blue Devils (12-4, 1-2 in ACC) are below .500 after three league games for the first time since 2006-07. They got there by seeing a 10-point second-half lead disappear in a 79-77 loss at Notre Dame on Jan. 4 and a nine-point second-half do the same at Clemson.
Virginia (12-4, 3-0) is tied with Syracuse and Pittsburgh atop the ACC standings after the Cavaliers trounced N.C. State 76-45 at Raleigh’s PNC Arena on Saturday.
Rodney Hood, one of Duke’s three team captains and it’s leading scorer in ACC play, said his struggling team is facing a serious challenge.
“Quick turn around against Virginia,” Hood said. “Another tough team. A mature team. If we don’t get it right, I don’t want to think about it.”
Duke’s streak of consecutive appearances in the Associated Press weekly top 25 poll could end before the Blue Devils take the court tonight. The new poll will be released just after noon and the Clemson loss puts the Blue Devils in jeopardy of falling out.
Duke has been in the top 25 for 126 consecutive polls, dating back to 2007. It’s the longest active streak in the country. Kansas, with 93 consecutive weeks, is second.
While the players said Clemson was the tougher team on Saturday, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said his team’s lack of cohesion – especially in defense and rebounding – is a major problem.
“We’re not physically strong, so we have to do things collectively, like rebounding,” Krzyzewski said after Clemson won the rebounding battle 48-30. “Everybody has to rebound, and then you hope that you can match the other team. We don't have to out-rebound them, but match them.”
Three times during his post-game comments at Clemson, Krzyzewski flatly said the Blue Devils “are not very good” right now. He added that that phrase is relative.
Duke was ranked among the AP’s top 10 for 122 consecutive weeks, the second-longest streak in the poll’s 64-year history, before dropping from No. 7 to No. 16 following the Notre Dame loss.
“When I say we’re not very good, we’re not very good compared to who we’ve been, and who we’ve been has been very good,” Krzyzewski said. “We can't live in the past, we have to live in the present and figure out how this team can win, and that's our responsibility as a staff to do that.”
Playing without a true center this season, Duke used a three-guard offense routinely at Clemson. Jabari Parker, Hood and Amile Jefferson rotated at the two post positions with Josh Hairston also seeing some minutes there.
The Blue Devils foiled their own plan with poor shooting, particularly in the second half. Point guard Quinn Cook was 3 of 14 from the field, while sharp-shooting reserve guard Andre Dawkins was 1of 7. Duke shot a season-low 33.9 percent, including 25 percent in the second half to suffer the loss.
Senior guard Tyler Thornton, also a team captain, is preaching unity to get Duke out of its doldrums.
“It’s up to everybody,” Thornton said. “Once you do that, collectively we’ll get through that together. But we can’t get through it on an individual basis.”
Big, physical, experienced post players from Notre Dame and Clemson were factors in handing Duke its two league losses. The 6-9 Jefferson is the tallest player who is a regular in Duke’s rotation with Hood and Parker both standing 6-8.
Hood, though, refuses to succumb to excuses.
“At the end of the day we can’t say we don’t have size, we don’t have a rim protector, we don’t have this,” Hood said. “We have to get it done.”
The Blue Devils know that has to happen soon because nothing can be taken for granted.
“We are trying to build a resume for the tournament at the end of the year,” Thornton said. “Things can go bad quickly. We have to adjust. We have a game to get ready for (against Virginia).”