A bad night or bad sign for Duke?
Posted March 15, 2013
Greensboro, N.C. — Do we still have to pay our taxes?
No, I wasn't asking you Mr. Lowe, I was just wondering since one of the all-time sure things, Duke winning the ACC Tournament, isn't going to happen this year. I was just hoping that….aw forget it.
Friday night at the Greensboro Coliseum, the Duke Blue Devils looked into the future and saw the way their season will come to an end. Sure, the Devils were woeful from behind the 3-point line, connecting on just 4-of-25 attempts – a performance even worse than when they visited Miami in January. But if you think Duke was sent packing by Maryland because the threes weren't falling, then you don't know Duke.
Duke's major problem tonight, and in fact their biggest issue heading into final exam month, was their defense. Maryland sophomore forward (and Raleigh native) Dez Wells carved up the Devils to the tune of 30 points on just 13 attempts. Wells drove the ball to the rim, pulled up for mid-range shots and knocked down his only two 3-pointers.
In short, he did whatever he pleased and the Blue Devils were simply loitering. Wells wasn't alone either. The Terrapins, a team that is still trying to play its way onto the proverbial bubble, was simply the more attacking team throughout the line up.
But why was that the case?
Duke has – or had – a lot riding on tonight's game. There's no question that the loss to a team that is still a long shot to see their name on Selection Sunday will jeopardize the Devils' hold on a No. 1 seed. That's not to say that it's lost, just that it's less likely today than it would have been with a win over the Terps. And the time last I checked, winning the ACC Tournament is always a very big deal to this program.
More importantly, however, is that Duke is still trying to figure out who they are since the return of Ryan Kelly four games ago. Because of that, every opportunity to face the pressure of competition without the most dire consequences was going to be beneficial when the NCAA Tournament begins for them either Thursday or Friday.
In all the years I've actively covered Duke basketball, I can unequivocally say that this is the most confusing Blue Devils team to figure out. They have so many weapons offensively and all of the defensive measurements say that, especially since Kelly's return, Duke is one of the best in the country in protecting their own basket. Friday evening said otherwise, however.
Maybe it was just a bad night – their second in the last five games – against a desperate team. Maybe Maryland is better than they've shown all year long. Maybe, much like NC State a year ago, they're a team that has always been on the verge of doing something significant and Duke just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But the Blue Devils are going to face better teams than the Terps next weekend and an effort like tonight – which rang eerily similar to that against Virginia two weeks ago – is going to spell a much earlier close to the college careers of Kelly, Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry than they would have hoped.
For those that think Duke is still the "live by the three, die by the three" team they've always been, the numbers say otherwise. You're going to lose games when you only make 16 percent from 3-point range, for sure, but the Blue Devils shoot fewer threes now than they have over the last several seasons.
Offensively, this team is much more diverse than in the past. They can get offense from Plumlee inside and they have shown the ability to get in the lane and create baskets with Curry, Quin Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon.
Duke shoots 41 oercent from beyond the arc as a team – 4th best in the country – but they've shown they can win without the 3-ball, hitting a combined 13 in victories over VCU, Louisville and Ohio State. But the Blue Devils aren't going to win when they allow teams to spread them out, break them apart and convert with the ease that Maryland displayed on Friday.
No, if Duke's season ends just a few games from now, it's going to be the defense, not the jump shot, that sends them home.