The main reason Duke basketball is struggling this season

Duke basketball (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports) /

Duke basketball doesn’t have the one type of piece that it’s accustomed to.

It’d be nice if Duke basketball sophomore forward Wendell Moore offered more. It wouldn’t hurt if sophomore forward Matthew Hurt reached full-fledged stardom. The Blue Devils could start shaking and baking if junior wing Joey Baker was to heat up from downtown. And the squad should be golden if senior guard Jordan Goldwire suddenly becomes an offensive weapon.

But veterans’ shortcomings do not account for the overriding explanation to Duke’s dreary 2-2 start to the season. Neither does the strategy on offense — or lack thereof — from 73-year-old head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Instead, as harsh as it sounds to put the onus on the youngins, the relative mediocrity of the freshmen is primarily to blame. Actually, going one step further in finding the tough-to-swallow truth of the matter, one could even argue that Krzyzewski and his gang of recruiters just came up short on the 2020 trail in their scouting efforts, sales pitches, or both.

After all, the 2020 Duke basketball class is the first in Durham since 2012-13 not to contain at least one of the top 10 prospects on the final 247Sports Composite. Unlike 2012-13, there are no seasoned Blue Devil sensations around like then-seniors Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, and Ryan Kelly.

Of course, maybe world conditions in 2020 aren’t exactly conducive to a youthful roster, no matter the level of artistry in town.

Whatever the reason, throughout the 2020-21 campaign thus far, there are no first-year Blue Devils consistently shining to the degree of a Vernon Carey Jr., Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Marvin Bagley III, Jayson Tatum, Brandon Ingram, Jahlil Okafor, or Jabari Parker.

In other words, there’s no single rookie to send shivers down the spines of opponents.

So that’s a problem, especially when considering the program nowadays — whether by choice or happenstance — sits on a one-and-done foundation.

The unsustained excellence of current Duke basketball freshmen

Sure, freshman forward Jalen Johnson seems sure to bolt to the NBA in the spring due to his springy step and impressive instincts for his age. Yet in the three games since sizzling out of the gates with a 19-point, 19-rebound, 8-for-8 showing against Coppin State, the Milwaukee native has exhibited several limitations while averaging 9.0 points and shooting 11-for-27 from the field.

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Yes, freshman guard DJ Steward has shown flashes of a dynamic scorer, to the tune of 24 points in his Duke basketball debut, and has the potential to soon be a professional hoopster at the highest level. However, the playmaker from Chicago still has obstacles to overcome, notably on the defensive end, largely due to his diminutive stature.

Absolutely, freshman guard Jeremy Roach is already a competent ballhandler and distributor who should continue to make strides in becoming the polished Duke basketball floor general that fans have come to expect every year. On the other hand, the DMV talent is not as electric as his five-star status implied.

No doubt, freshman forward Jaemyn Brakefield is exceeding most expectations by regularly offering the Blue Devils grit and outside shooting in times of need. That said, the Mississippi product is by no means a showstopping force, at least not yet anyway.

Also, freshman center Mark Williams, as a starter or a sub, serves as an instant source of easy blocked shots, simple alley-oop finishes, and probable jump-ball wins. However, the 7-footer out of Virginia Beach, Va., is restricted when it comes to his complete arsenal and his playing time because of lingering tendinitis in his knees.

Finally, freshman forward Henry Coleman supplies Duke with high doses of energy and strength off the bench. The bruiser from Richmond is not a refined baller, though.

All in all, if no present-day freshman ever stays put as the one critical star piece to the annual Duke basketball puzzle in this one-and-done era, these Blue Devils are bound for sustained mediocrity.

Coach K’s 41st Duke basketball team is set to begin its ACC slate — also its first road trip — when it takes on 2-2 Notre Dame at 9 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN).

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