I have been watching Duke Basketball for nearly 30 years, most of my life now and I can’t figure out this year’s team.
Entering the year I thought we would see a team that was going to be better than last year’s that was incredibly disappointing especially in the NCAA Tournament. I didn’t believe this was a championship team but after the first 15 games of the season, including victories over multiple Top 5 teams, it certainly looked like they were the best team in the nation.
Then Ryan Kelly got hurt and while the Blue Devils didn’t fall apart they clearly were not the same team as before. They lost four games without Kelly and when he returned with a bang– a 36-point effort against Miami– many were thinking Duke was back to being the best team as well.
Duke took care of Virginia Tech and North Carolina with relative ease an headed into the ACC Tournament looking like the team to beat. Then Friday night happened. Maryland came out hot, Duke came out flat and never really challenged the Terrapins. It started with a lack of defensive effort. Maryland had wide open looks all night and with Duke’s inability to rebound on either end of the floor it made for a long night.
The same kind of inconsistency that the Blue Devils showed when they were playing without Kelly crept back in. Quinn Cook, who has been solid all season, save for spells, had one of those games where his decisions and shot selection was questionable.
Duke’s two players who should be more reserve guys, Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton, took it upon themselves to start chucking it up from the cheap sheets when no one else’s shots were falling. That isn’t a game plan for success but against the Terrapins, Duke didn’t look like they had much of a game plan.
The lack of effort, or motivation just has made watching this team at times unbearable, especially after having seen how very good they can be.
From games where they look completely dominant to games where they look like they can be beat by anyone, you just never really know what you are going to get night in and night out from this team.
The Blue Devils are one of the few teams I can think of that can both win the tournament and lose in the opening round game. As good as they can be when they are hitting on all cylinders they can just as equally be as bad.
Duke has a week to try and rediscover their edge. It isn’t a matter of needing the time to get rest. This isn’t a team that lost to Maryland because they were playing tired. This is a team that lost because they played with very little focus or seemingly very little motivation to come out and prove anything.
While they have proven they can be a good team, aside from the Battle for Atlantis Tournament, they haven’t proven they can be a championship level team and time is running out. It is the championship teams that are remembered and right now the only thing this team would be remembered for if the season ended to day would be how inconsistent they were.
It is a strange case indeed. Will we see Dr. Jekyll or will we see Mr. Hyde come NCAA Tournament time? I wish I knew.