Blue Devils notch pivotal win in upward trending season
Posted January 25
Amazingly, the college basketball regular season is roughly two-thirds done, and in a top-heavy ACC, Duke’s win Saturday could be considered the first “big win” for the team picked in the preseason to run away with the conference.
(Okay, the win against Virginia after dropping two of their first three league games was also “big,” but hear me out.)
The Blue Devils entered the weekend tied with Florida State for fourth in the ACC, along with Clemson, at 4-2 in league play. That’s a big deal because the top-4 teams in the league earn double byes in the first year of the 15-team expanded conference tournament. The bottom six all play on the first day and the middle five will begin on Day 2. The little kids in the AT&T commercials could tell you it’s easier to win three than it is to win five.
Duke played Saturday with a sense of urgency from the opening tip as if they knew this was a pivotal game in conference play. They forced turnovers and got three-pointers from Andre Dawkins on two of the game’s first three possessions. That set the tone for a game in which they grabbed 27 offensive rebounds and forced 17 Florida State turnovers.
“We were so hungry,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game. “I don’t ever remember having 27 offensive rebounds in a game.”
With apologies to Coach K, Duke had 28 offensive rebounds in a game in 2002 against NC A&T. However, I looked back at every game dating back to 2000-01, and they had not exceeded 24 in a conference game in that span before today.
Coach K made another interesting point Saturday after notching his 900th career win at Duke, joining him with Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim as the only two Division I men’s coaches to reach that milestone at one school. He said not to judge his team on the full season’s stats or performance.
“People use stats from November, before we really start our season. We play a difficult schedule,” Krzyzewski said. “The most relevant stats are what you do in the last four-to-six games because teams trend. We have been getting better throughout.”
Over the last four games, Duke has indeed seen noted improvement. They have forced double-digit turnovers in three of four including 21 against NC State and 17 Saturday. They have also out-rebounded their opponent in three of four and shot at a better free-throw percentage in all four games.
True, loses at Notre Dame and Clemson could go either way depending on how you define "bad losses", but a loss Saturday against Florida State could have put Duke in a serious hole when you consider the remainder of their schedule.
Yes, there are still 11 more games for Duke in conference play before we get to the conference tournament, but they now have the inside track at a double bye. Unfortunately for them, they also have the toughest road left with home-and-home’s against both Syracuse and North Carolina and a road game at Pittsburgh.
“We are getting better. We are not a powerhouse, but we are getting better,” Krzyzewski added.
The cliché goes, ‘you want to peak at the right time’. For Duke, they could make things really easy on themselves down the road if they can maintain their current trend upward. And while this year’s team may never reach “powerhouse” status, peaking in March after a year of constant improvement would be ideal.
Next up for the Blue Devils? Nationally televised road games next week against the top two teams in the ACC – Pittsburgh Monday and Syracuse Saturday.