Like any game, there was plenty of good and bad in Duke's performance against Kansas. But let's stop and look at one stat, because it undeniably affected the outcome. In fact it precisely defined the outcome: Kansas shot 27-35 from the foul line (77.1%) to Duke's 16-28 (57.1%). The guys from Durham weren't going to shoot 28-28, but the Jayhawks did win by 11.
Duke has a lot of things to work on, which we'll get to in a minute, but poor free throw shooting is a big deal. In the early K era, Duke wasn't as talented as a lot of other teams but minimized that by getting to the line a lot and racking up the basketball equivalent of frequent flyer miles. It's just such an easy way to stay in a game that it's a shame when a team doesn't do it well.
But that wasn't the only problem for Duke. Kansas got a lot done inside, from easy baskets to superior rebounding. The Jayhawks dominated Duke on the boards, 39 to 24 overall and with nine offensive to Duke's five.
Naturally, Kansas didn't get inside just by chance: Duke struggled to defend inside, and a lot of that, presumably, has to do with experience, repetition and trust. They'll get better at it and it'll probably be a focus for the near future. Against KU, though, it was a serious weakness.
Aside from Jabari Parker, no one rebounded very well. Rodney Hood and Amile Jefferson combined for five boards. Tyler Thornton nearly outrebounded them by himself (he grabbed four).
And for the first time this season, the drive to clean up the game affected Duke negatively as Tyler Thornton and Rodney Hood both picked up four fouls and Jabari Parker fouled out.
Obviously there are things to work on, but there's no one better at applying failure to future success than Coach K. And despite the issues in this game, there were a lot of positives, starting with the brilliant first half from Jabari Parker. We've seen enough of him to understand that he's a brilliant shooter. Where do you categorize him though? Redick land? That's hard to say at this point. Laettnerville? Possibly. Engelland City? Okay. Singlerton? Arguably better.
Parker is a beautiful shooter. He appears to be as consistent as JJ Redick and Christian Laettner, although it's too early to suggest he can have epic performances on those scales. Still, that first half was spectacular.
And it's not just the shooting, it's the passing, the rebounding and the shotblocking. There was a suggestion during his last year of high school that Parker wasn't necessarily supremely athletic. If that's so, then he's certainly deceptively athletic. Nothing wrong with his vertical and he seems to get up and down the court pretty well. We're wondering if some of those critics watched him when he was recovering from his foot injury.
And in another nice bonus, Rasheed Sulaimon may have reclaimed his spot in the lineup.
Between some pointed comments in the preseason and not starting, it seems the staff is pushing Sulaimon to be more assertive.
It worked in the second half as Sulaimon came through for his teammates.
In fact, Sulaimon was just about Duke's only bench production, scoring 13 of the 15 by the reserves.
That's something else we'd expect to change: Matt Jones took only one shot and missed his only foul shot. Josh Hairston has never been a big scorer, but Alex Murphy could score more. And Semi Ojeleye didn't get in the game. He's a guy who can get out on breaks, who can defend and who, come to think of it, might establish a role as a rebounder off the bench.
Anyway, it wasn't the result Duke fans wanted, but it may pay dividends and sooner rather than later.
In the meantime, improved free throw shooting would still help.