When Duke lost to Kansas, I was fine with it; Kansas had the tools to exploit Duke’s developing weaknesses, and the team was still learning how to gel.
When Duke nearly lost to ECU, I was annoyed, but I understood; the Pirates are a damn good basketball team that the Blue Devils ran into on the tail-end of back-to-back night games.
However, when Duke came within a second or two of losing to the Vermont Catamounts tonight, I was beyond frustrated. It was one of the worst defensive performances I’ve seen in awhile from a Duke team, and it is more apparent than ever that this squad could be in for a bumpy ride if they can’t get it together soon.
First off, let me say that Vermont is a much better team than record indicates, so much so that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see them challenge Duke for most of the game. Regardless, the Blue Devils should’ve pulled away at some point, but they were outplayed, out-hustled, and out-smarted for a large majority of the game. Had it not been for another star offensive performance from Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker, they would’ve lost this game, and lost it badly.
We already knew the problems coming in: interior defense, rebounding, and a consistent rotation. That shouldn’t be a big deal; inexperienced college teams are supposed to start out slow and progress as the season moves along, but their weaknesses have been consistent, and they’ve shown no signs of improvement.
The defense can be penetrated at will, with Vermont frequently utilizing drives to pull Duke out of position and free up teammates for easy shots. It happened early and often, and canceled out any type of talent advantage the Blue Devils held on defense.
When Vermont cut the drive-and-kick approach and went straight to the paint, they didn’t have to overpower their opponent; Duke made sure they were out of position or, well, just standing around and watching. They slumped back in transition. They weren’t quick to react. They were either overly-aggressive or entirely unaggressive. The result: a 64.8% mark from the field for Vermont. It was, for lack of a better phrase, pathetically pathetic. Duke actually managed to out-rebound the Catamounts, 30-24, but no one is leaving with the impression that it was an improvement.
The rotation continued to be non-existent, with a grand total of five players receiving more than 12 minutes. At this point, we can attribute it to a lack of trust, matchups, or anything really, but it is clear that Krzyzewski doesn’t trust a whole lot of his guys in close games. One of the more interesting developments out of all this is Amile Jefferson, who received just twelve minutes for the second straight game. His game hasn’t been perfect, but he boasts the strongest presence on the offensive boards amongst the entire team, and his non-stop hustle and energy would be a welcomed presence in a sluggish rotation.
Besides, one has to wonder how long this team will last with this type of anti-rotation. As much as I’d like to think so, Jabari Parker is probably not Superman. If Duke finds themselves in physical, intense games, guys won’t be able to effectively last 35+ minutes.
This doesn’t have to be entirely bad news; this could be nothing more than early season issues. For all we know, Duke will go to the NIT Tip-Off, smack around their opponents, and reignite all the promise and hope we had heading into the season.
Until that happens, however, Duke fans have every right to be worried about this team heading forward, especially with Alabama, Arizona, Michigan, and UCLA all on the approaching horizon.
Krzyzewski has worked plenty of wonders during his time in Durham. Getting this team on track might be one of his biggest tests yet.