Coach K built his reputation on communication and defense but in the age of one-and-done it’s a lot harder to have consistent defense, let alone consistent communication.
So it goes this year. Despite an often overwhelming offense, Duke has had consistent defensive breakdowns.
This article from ESPN’s John Gasaway takes a closer look.
Duke got killed from three point range against Boston College, but even so, Duke was up 79-75 with 3:33 left and still led by one with 1:33 left.
Then, as if to underscore Gasaway’s point, Jerome Robinson hit a crucial three to give BC the lead for good.
But let’s look at the other mistakes Duke made down the stretch and opportunities the Blue Devils missed.
- 6:32: Marvin Bagley took a three 11 seconds after getting a defensive rebound with Duke up by one, 70-69. He missed.
- 6:29: Javin DeLaurier fouled.
- 5:27: Grayson Allen missed a three. 72-71 Duke.
- 5:17: Gary Trent missed a three. 72-71 Duke.
- 4:52: Duke allowed Steffon Mitchell to hit Ky Bowman down the middle for a dunk. 74-73 Duke.
- 4:36: Bagley offensive foul. 74-73 Duke.
- 2:57: Trevon Duval missed a three. To us this was the hinge of the game. It wasn’t a shot he should’ve taken. If Duke scored on this play, the Blue Devils would have been up 81-75 or 82-75. Jerome Robinson hit a dagger of a three after that miss to put BC up 79-78.
- 2:26: Bagley turnover
- 1:32: Trent turnover
- 1:01: Allen missed a jumper. 81-79 BC.
- 0:37: Intentional foul on Trevon Duval.
You could look at this and to an extent blame it on Duval but even though he made two horrible decisions that’s not fair. You should also consider this. Here’s Bagley’s second-half offense:
- 16:57: missed jumper
- 15:26: three point shot
- 14:12: missed three point shot
- 13:07: made two foul shots
- 6:32: missed three point shot
Look again. One of the leading candidates for National Player of the Year hit his last basket with 15:26 left in the game - from the top of the key.
BC did a great job on Bagley to be sure, but there wasn’t a player on the court who could stop him when he got the ball. He just didn’t get it that much late in the game and that’s not his fault.
It’s not surprising that a team of freshmen lost and it’s hardly a tragedy to lose a game. We forget, but as good as they were, the Fab Five never won the Big Ten.
Experience is vital and at least as important as talent when you’re looking at the top teams.
In a few weeks, Duval doesn’t make those mistakes and we expect that Duke won’t overlook Bagley for so much of the game either. And the defense is bound to improve. People are treating this loss like it was inconceivable and unless you have Lew Alcindor on your team, it’s never inconceivable - and even UCLA lost to Houston when the future Kareem Adbul-Jabbar had an eye injury.
Losses are a chance for Coach K to look at his roster and to try things. Remember the Chris Paul Game, when he started walk-ons Reggie Love, Patrick Davidson and Patrick Johnson?
The late Skip Prosser called it a “curious” strategy, implying that the idea was to beat Chris Paul up, an idea that many Wake fans hold to this day.
That wasn't it. The message was aimed at Duke, not Wake.
The starters weren’t playing to the best of their ability but the walk-ons were. They were the more honorable and reliable players at that moment, so he turned to them. They did foul Paul but not as a strategy. Those guys fought to the absolute best of their (limited) ability. They were showing the kind of intensity Mike Krzyzewski demands.
After the point was made, the starters returned and played with vastly more intensity.
After the game, Davidson said this: “I think it was about going out and competing every day and showing we have a passion to play and a passion to compete no matter who it is. I know that coach started us for a reason, that he felt we deserved it. Coach is honest like that—he wouldn’t do it for no reason.”
It’s exam time now and that means film time for K and staff and time for some experiments.
We’ve seen him willing to try big changes in the past. This team has had serious problems with defense and communication and as he looks down the bench, he may take a long glance at one particular player. He’s not one of the best talents on the team, but he is one of the best communicators and he always plays with surpassing intensity.
We could be wrong, and it wouldn’t be the first time, but it wouldn’t surprise us at all if he looked down the bench sometime in the next few weeks and called Justin Robinson’s name. What he lacks in raw talent he makes up with passion and intensity. He’s been around long enough to know what is expected and the staff knows he’ll give his all whenever he plays.
He may never be a star, might never even be a starter. He might, though, give Duke something it really needs and something that most freshmen, no matter how gifted, find it difficult to offer.