Next Up - Virginia

Can Duke bounce back from the Clemson debacle? - Tyler Smith

Game time: 7:00 p.m. TV: ESPN. Arena: Cameron

Next up for the Blue Devils, fresh off a very unpleasant trip to Clemson, is Virginia, and the Cavaliers are coming to Durham with a tailwind.

Since getting clobbered by Tennessee, Virginia hasn't lost and has clobbered everyone since themselves. The Cavs beat a tough FSU team by 12 at FSU, hammered Wake Forest by 23, and throttled State on Saturday by 31.

That's an average margin of 22 points and each one larger than the last, and no one topped 51 points, either.

Clearly Tony Bennett drew some lessons from the loss in Knoxville and his team has applied them ruthlessly. At 12-4 and 3-0 in the ACC, Virginia is in great shape.

So what lessons has Duke drawn from the loss at Clemson? If you haven't read Al Featherston's column about Duke's struggles, you should go read that too. As Feather points out, in all four of Duke's losses, the Blue Devils were up at the half and...something...went wrong in the second.

We aren't the kind of site which advocates that the staff do...something. That'd be ridiculous. Our knowledge of basketball is probably better than the average laypersons, but the only coach we would have ever presumed to have advised would have been Matt Doherty, and that's because of how he treated people, not because of his technical knowledge of the game, which dwarves ours.

Moreover, very few of us get a chance to peer behind the curtain. We don't know much of anything. None of us do. No one knows who's getting treatment for lingering injuries, no one knows who is having a hard time adapting to college life, no one knows who might be a difficult personality to integrate into a group. Nor do we know who is having a hard time with a girlfriend or family.

And that stuff matters. Chris Carrawell's dad decided to finally introduce himself to his son in the post-season of his senior year, which completely threw C-well off. Another Duke player who came from a very close-knit family played his final year with his parents discussing ending their marriage. He never regained his previous form.

For one other example, when Alaa Abdelnaby came to Duke, he was obviously, visually immature. Despite NBA level talent, it took until his senior year for him to become a reliable player, and going into that year, Coach K mused that while Alaa was a good kid, if he wasn't ready to step up, you just go on to the next person.

What we do know from years of paying pretty close attention is how Coach K has reacted previously, and from that, we can draw reasonable conclusions.

For instance, Jay Bilas said once that before his defense became reliable, in practice one day Coach K was angry at his inability to stop someone and told him, in no uncertain terms, that he'd better not let it happen again.

So Bilas basically tackled the guy as he drove to the basket: message received.

On one occasion, we think around 1987, the team lost three straight games late in the year. Krzyzewski talked to everyone on the bus after the last loss and asked each member of the team what he thought the problem was. They identified some things, pulled together and finished with a solid season.

You probably remember the occasion when he had everything thrown out of the locker room a few years ago, saying his team didn't deserve it.

At one point in 1998 or '89, we forget which, he got sick of Elton Brand's casual play and benched him. "I don't care what you do next year," he reportedly told Brand, "but this year, you play for Duke."

The stereotype is that Krzyzewski screams until he gets what he wants, but it should be clear by now that merely yelling at people doesn't work. Fear typically backfires on a coach because when players are thinking about fear, they're not thinking about being champions. If this was ever unclear, the painful end of Bob Knight's time at Indiana should prove it, and if that's not sufficient, then the self-sabotage of Doherty's once promising career should suffice.

Fear is a poor motivator.

The other day Coach K talked about how in his professional life anger had been a really useful tool. He's mentioned various things during his time at Duke - the "concerned Iron Dukes" who wanted him fired early in his career, the anger which initially fueled his epic rivalry with Dean Smith, on one-off statement about how he wouldn't leave his successor with an empty cupboard like the one he had when he got to Durham.

But as potent as that can be, as useful a weapon as it is, it's not nearly as critical as his ability to talk to people and to find ways to draw excellence from them.

All that said, we have no idea what to expect Monday night. We can't remember going this deep into a season with things seemingly so unsettled, particularly on defense.

What we are sure of is this.

Though Duke is struggling, there is intense work going on. Video is being exhaustively analyzed. Weaknesses are being addressed and, as in the military, contingency plans are being drawn up.

In the past, Duke has done some unorthodox things. During Carrawell's freshman year, he replaced Greg Newton late in the year - and Duke turned things around.

In 2001, after Carlos Boozer was injured, walk-on Reggie Love took on a huge role. In 2010, the team was rebuilt with dramatic new roles for Brian Zoubek, Elliot Williams and Jon Scheyer, who overnight became an extraordinary point guard.

We don't know what will happen this year. It may be something relatively undramatic, like minor changes on defense, or it could be something unexpected, like putting Semi Ojeleye at center.

Who knows?

What we're sure of is that there is no intention of accepting what happened at Clemson.

And moreover that there's an excellent chance that the proposed answer will be something no one really thought of.

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