Duke basketball: It’s not nearly as pitiful as it looks

Duke basketball (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports) /

Understand, the sky is not actually falling on the Duke basketball program.

A winning record overall and in ACC play, albeit just barely at 5-4 and 3-2, respectively. A host of legit excuses for the struggles along the way, from injuries and quarantines to postponements and cancellations. A five-star freshman who has twice exhibited absolute individual dominance, even with only five full games under his belt. A young Duke basketball bunch with ample talent.

Yup, as out of sync and out of the ordinary as they may seem to their fans right now, the Blue Devils are not a lost cause.

They haven’t thrown pity parties despite the chaotic schedule and absence of Cameron Crazies. They haven’t thrown public tantrums despite their consistently changing roles and starting lineups. Most importantly, they haven’t thrown in the towel despite so many doomsayers trying to do so for them.

Look, three of the losses were by seven points or less. Half were on the road. None came against opponents with losing records at the moment. In fact, the four defeats have been at the hands of teams who now boast a combined 37-13 record. Meanwhile, the two conference foes who have beaten Duke are part of a four-way tie for second in the ACC standings loss column.

In short, while there are no quality wins just yet, there are also no bad losses.

Plus, now that rookie combo forward Jalen Johnson is obviously back at full strength — to the tune of 24 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, four blocks, two steals, and zero turnovers across 33 minutes last time out before fouling out with 2:16 to play — the unranked Blue Devils have an opportunity to fly completely under the national radar while learning to play to their strengths.

Although inconsistencies and frailty have been a widespread issue thus far, three of six freshmen — Johnson along with guards DJ Steward and Jeremy Roach — are averaging double-digit points.

Meanwhile, even with his most recent subpar performance, sophomore stretch-four Matthew Hurt ranks No. 2 in the ACC in scoring at 18.9 points per game and has knocked down 44.0 percent of his 3-point attempts this season. At the same time, fellow sophomore Wendell Moore appears to be crawling out of the rock-bottom state he had been in for the bulk of Duke’s slate to date.

Also, the perimeter/fullcourt defense is formidable with a handful of guards and wings who have shown to get after it when jumping passing lanes, pickpocketing loosey-goosey ballhandlers, and diving for loose balls. With an average of 9.0 steals per game, the squad is on par with the 2018-19 showmen in Durham, who were the most prolific Blue Devil thieves of the past decade.

Add all that to the fact this group has demonstrated on several occasions a dogged fight in chipping away at early double-digit deficits, even though their efforts have often come up a bit short as of late. Simply put, the effort is there.

Trust in the legend on the Duke basketball throne

Just relax, for giant bumps in the road during January have been fairly common across the 41 years with Mike Krzyzewski at Duke’s helm.

In other words, as the college game’s all-time wins leader hinted at following his group’s 79-73 loss at Pitt (8-2, 4-1 ACC) on Tuesday night, it’s not as if he hasn’t proven capable in the past of effectively inspiring his guys and tweaking his scheme:

“They’re 18, 19, and 20. There should be no panic buttons on young people who have a chance to play at this level of college basketball. If there was a panic button, it would be for 73-year-old people who have coached for 46 years. And I don’t have one.”

Like it or not, there’s no easy button either. Besides, if there was, then college hoops would truly be a bore.

At this point, all the ardent Duke basketball supporters can do is sit back and watch the season play out while respecting the mastermind who is in charge of the total operation.

And folks should be able to simply enjoy the sights of Blue Devils persevering, bonding, and growing. As for those who can’t, maybe being a Dukie just isn’t for you.

The journey is set to continue at 4 p.m. Saturday against Louisville (9-3, 4-2 ACC) in the KFC Yum! Center, a place where Duke proved in 2019 that a 180 can miraculously occur with the flip of a switch.

Trending. Hall of Famer criticizes Zion Williamson. light

Stay tuned to Ball Durham for more Duke basketball news and views.