By Andrew Kahn
Like a home run hitter approaching a major milestone, the wins have come slower for Mike Krzyzewski as he nears 1,000 career victories. He remains stuck at 997 after Duke’s 90-74 loss to Miami last night. The Blue Devils’ 41-game home winning streak, the longest active streak in the country and one that dated back to March 2012, was snapped. After starting 14-0, they’ve now lost two straight for the first time since February 2009. “I’ve felt since Christmas that something is missing with our group,” Krzyzewski said after the game. “When you’re still winning, you don’t necessarily believe it. We’re all on the same page after two losses.” What has gone wrong for Duke lately and can their problems be fixed?
Call them ‘uke’
Miami and North Carolina State (which beat Duke 87-75 on Sunday) have posted the two most efficient offensive performances against Duke all season. The Blue Devils currently rank No. 67 in defensive efficiency (via KenPom.com). In the obviously small ACC sample size, league opponents are shooting better against Duke than any other team.
The Hurricanes went on a 10-0 run in the second half in which their ball handlers didn’t face much pressure and they were able to get out and run. Angel Rodriguez tallied 24 points, 5 assists, 5 steals, and 4 rebounds in what Coach K called “one of best performances I’ve seen in Cameron from an opposing player.”
Defense, typically a strength for Duke, has been a problem for the last several seasons. The KenPom efficiency numbers go back to the 2001-02 season, and Duke’s adjusted efficiency ranking from then until 2010-11 averaged 12th in the country. Since, the Blue Devils have ranked 81st, 31st, and 116th. They are 67th this season. An elite offense—which Duke has had until this recent rough stretch—has masked some of the issues on the other end of the floor, but it leaves the Blue Devils far more vulnerable to upsets than you’d expect.
Perhaps Duke’s freshmen-heavy lineup has struggled to learn the defensive concepts Coach K emphasizes. The two players who saw the court the most for the Blue Devils last year were newcomers (freshman Jabari Parker and transfer Rodney Hood) and Duke starts three freshmen this season. “We’re trying to cram in three or four years’ worth of stuff into one year,” Krzyzewski said.
Freshmen Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow have been ice cold during the two-game losing streak. The duo is a combined 7 for 34 from the field, including 1 for 14 from deep. “We’re not a very confident shooting team right now,” Krzyzewski said, mentioning Duke’s 10 for 20 performance from the free throw line as further proof.
O besides Okafor
The cold shooting will only increase opponents’ use of double teams to contain center Jahlil Okafor. He hasn’t slowed in Duke’s losses, scoring 23 and 15 points. But his teammates went just 6 of 21 from deep last night. Miami deserves credit for its defensive rotations, but the Blue Devils have to be more creative in the ways they get Okafor the ball. And someone other than Quinn Cook—Winslow, Jones, Rasheed Sulaimon—will need to start hitting again from the outside to keep defenses honest.
Louisville’s stingy defense will not make it easy for Duke, but it’s a match-up that still favors the Blue Devils if they get back to playing how they did in the first couple of weeks of the season.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn.
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