Duke basketball: Overcoming adversity should be story of season

Duke basketball guard Jeremy Roach (Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports)
Duke basketball guard Jeremy Roach (Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Duke basketball season came to an end by a tough and physical Tennessee Volunteers team.

The Duke basketball team was without its starting small forward, Mark Mitchell, due to a leg injury that wasn’t reported until ten minutes before the Blue Devils tipped off against Tennessee and it changed the game.

The narrative around this game was that Duke got out toughed, but that’s not necessarily true.

Saturday afternoon in Orlando was an absolute rock fight and Tennessee was throwing punches throughout the entire game.

Duke responded to the majority of the runs but could not overcome a hot shooting night from the Vols, which may be an aberration when we look back at its tournament run.

ALSO READ: Untimely defense, sporadic offense causes season to end

Tennessee shoots 32-percent from 3-point range on the season but shot a blistering 43-percent from distance against the Blue Devils, which ended up to be too much for Duke to handle.

It’s a major credit to Tennessee for setting the tone early and often.

They were extremely physical and, even though they got in foul trouble early, the message was sent to this young Duke team.

Duke’s guards were not able to get two feet in the paint and with the way its offense is setup the penetration of guards getting downhill off of screens is so important because the Blue Devils weren’t able to put any pressure on Tennessee’s defense or get them in rotations off of drives.

One of the adjustments we were hoping to see is for Duke to get out in transition in an attempt to score before Tennessee’s defense was set, but the defense was unable to get enough stops or create turnovers like they had this season to set themselves up for transition opportunities.

The game speaks more about Tennessee and the state of the ACC this year, then it does Duke.

There were ten ACC teams that ranked worse than 100th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency this year, including more sub-200 defenses (3) than top-40 defenses (2), according to Eli Boettger.

Duke played 23-of-35 games against sub-100 defenses this season and it showed as Tennessee had opportunities all year in the SEC to improve, as where Duke was facing struggling opponents in the ACC.

Duke basketball constantly rises despite adversity

Duke faced a ton of adversity this year.

It dates back to the preseason when Dereck Lively and Dariq Whitehead were both battling injuries that kept them out of practice and early season games.

That rocky start bled into the middle of the season with the Blue Devils falling out of the Associated Press Top-25 at the start of ACC play after a few tough road losses, but Valentine’s Day turned things around, starting a 10 game win streak with a home win over Notre Dame.

Jon Scheyer and the coaching staff deserve credit for how far this team has come since November.

There was a lot of doubters, naysayers, and an occasional delusional fans calling for changes early in January, but Duke got healthy and started to come together in a way that everyone was hoping to see earlier in the year.

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Dereck Lively started to mature and really understand his defensive abilities and prowess.

He anchored this Duke basketball team defensively and with each game you could see the confidence increasing.

Lively’s improvement resulted in him being entered into the starting lineup which really set Duke’s rotation for the rest of the year, something that hurt them early in ACC play.

What Duke fans should remember from this season is that the Blue Devils improved from opening night until the season’s end.

They should remember that this new coaching staff knows what they are doing, even without the Mike Krzyzewski at the helm.

They should remember that even though North Carolina’s boosters paid $3 million to bring back its entire starting lineup, this Duke team swept them with 11 new players.

They should remember that they got hot at the right time and ended up winning the ACC Tournament for the 22nd time.

Now, the question is, who from this team will suit up for the 2023-2024 Blue Devils?