For four-straight games the Duke Blue Devils have entered a contest as the No. 1 team, but didn’t necessarily start the game looking like the nation’s best.
In fact, since Duke became the defacto No. 1 team following Indiana’s loss to Butler, the Blue Devils have not necessarily been playing their best basketball, especially at the beginnings of games. After beating Temple back on December 8, prior to the exam break, there was no argument that the Blue Devils were playing their best basketball.
Everything seemed to be clicking as Duke reeled off several big victories over the likes of Kentucky, Louisville, and Ohio State. Temple was undefeated when the Blue Devils took them out with relative ease, but since exams this hasn’t seemed like the same Duke team and a big part of it has been the slow starts in the last four games.
After exams Duke played Cornell and understandably played with a little rust early before winning comfortably 88-47. Then they turned around less than a full 24 hours later and tipped off against Elon, a game most figured the Blue Devils would win comfortably even with little rest. That wasn’t the case as Duke stumbled out of the gates against the Phoneix, and it wasn’t until the second half where Duke began to distance themselves.
Too many turnovers and or too poor a job on the boards have been the problem for the Blue Devils in their slow starts. Against Elon, Duke only led by 8 points at the half. Against Santa Clara they led by 6 points and against Davidson they were tied.
Granted in all cases they won by double figures, but in all cases it took until the second half before they either work up or began playing a form of basketball that more closely resembled what the Blue Devils have been doing most of the year up until this point.
At times, it almost appears that they are uninspired or not all that interested in playing their opponents. I’m sure that couldn’t be any further from the truth because Mike Krzyzewski would not stand for it. Still, the slow starts are a bit perplexing and with ACC play days away Duke cannot afford to start games out the way they have been.
Duke begins conference play against Wake Forest who is obviously not the same program it has been and then they play Clemson. With both games at home you’d think they’d be likely wins for Duke, however, if they play they way they have played at the beginning of games recently then you never know what might happen.
Next weekend will be their first true road game against up and coming conference rival NC State. The Wolf Pack certainly have the talent to contend in the ACC and beat Duke. They were the preseason favorite to win the ACC and were ranked two spots ahead of the Blue Devils in the national polls.
There is no doubt the Wolf Pack will want to beat Duke and anything less than the Blue Devils best effort could very well end in a loss. Last season saw the game between those two teams look like an NC State blowout before Duke pulled off the big comeback. The Wolf Pack most likely will want some measure of revenge and if the Blue Devils come out sluggish against them, they may put themselves in a position where a comeback isn’t possible.
One can only hope that Duke’s play is more a result of its disjointed practice and game scheduling due toexams and not a sign of problems to come later this season.