It has been painfully obvious since the second half of Duke’s victory over NC State that the Blue Devils are struggling.
The inconsistencies that plagued Duke just prior to, and immediately following Ryan Kelly’s injury have once again begun to rear their ugly head. A loss is one thing but what makes matters worse is when the team’s best player fail to perform.
The Blue Devils had looked like they were turning the corner following a sluggish performance in a win last month over Wake Forest.
They came back with strong performances, even on the road where they had struggled. The Blue Devils took out Florida State in Tallahassee with relative ease. They took out NC State in a revenge match looking impressive in the first half.
Duke was getting solid play from its key players and they were winning; in some cases by big margins and in the case of NC State, they were winning to the tune of 20 points at half time. That started to change in the second half against as the Wolfpack shot 80 percent from the floor in the second half and almost came all the way back.
The Blue Devils defensive shortcomings were only just about to begin. Against Boston College Duke barely hung on against one of the worst teams in the league in terms of total talent and experience. Granted it was played in Boston, it wasn’t the kind of performance you’d expect from the No. 2 team in the country.
Duke was able to survive a game, but hardly intimidating North Carolina team in the first of the rivals grudge matches and then came Saturday’s loss to Maryland, a decent team but one that the Blue Devils, being the No. 2 team in the country, should have and were expected to be.
Against the Terps it wasn’t a total break down but it was a failure for the leadership. Seth Curry and Quinn Cooks had nice games and beyond a strong second half performance from Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke was neither impressive or in sync for any considerable stretch of the game.
The most glaring failure came from senior captain Mason Plumlee who was completely and utterly out played by Maryland’s Alex Len. Plumlee, a supposed National Player of the Year Candidate, scored only 4 points and 3 points and was nothing short of an embarrassment considering the lofty praise that has been thrown his way.
At times Plumlee, sitting down on the bench from a clearly frustrated Mike Krzyzewski, appeared, at least from the television screen unconcerned and disinterested. And oddly enough while he sat Duke managed to make a couple runs at getting back in the game and in the end they had erased a 10 point deficit before coming up short.
Plumlee fouled out collected all 5 fouls in the second half, a half which he barely played.
It is an alarming turn of events and if the Blue Devils had have gotten anything close to his typical performance they very likely would have won the game.
Josh Hairston out played Plumlee and had he not fouled out late in the game, Plumlee may have not come back in the game after picking up his forth foul.
It is hard to say where Duke goes from here. Krzyzewski talked about the difficulty of the stretch that Duke just finished playing; Four games in 10 days including two rivalry games against NC State and North Carolina in that stretch. But despite going 3-1 in that four-game stretch the one loss leaves lingering questions?
The players say it wasn’t fatigue, and Krzyzewski praised his teams effort to come back and be in a position to win in the end but Duke’s inability to get all of the cogs moving in the right direction at the same time has stifled the long term potential of this team.
You simply don’t know which Duke team is going to come to play on a given night and game on the road have been an iffy proposition all season long.
At this point, barring a complete collapse by Miami, the Hurricanes should win the ACC Regular Season Title out right and by a comfortable margin. Duke can still finish second but the way they are playing and with the schedule they still have left to play it isn’t a forgone conclusion that that will happen.
Duke fans are still clinging to hope that Ryan Kelly will return, but the odds that he returns before the ACC Tournament are slim and none and if he does return at all (a prospect I personally am not hopeful of) it will hardly be enough time to work him back into the lineup. The Blue Devils learned this lesson with Kyrie Irving and it was painful. The ever changing time table on Kelly has the potential of a repeat of that lesson looming.
In the meantime Duke fans are left hoping that the Blue Devils can once again start playing its best basketball, but as the season starts winding down you have to wonder if the odds of that are less likely than ever.
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