We’re sure there’s a lot of angst because Duke has lost consecutive games to Clemson and Louisville and while we don’t want to say well big deal, we would like to make a few counterpoints.
First, no one knows how to exploit failure better than Mike Krzyzewski. While the rest of us are going about our business, he’s applying lessons from the losses.
We can think of lots of moments when he’s done this. When Nick Horvath was a young Blue Devil, he said in practice that Horvath tended to take a lot of shots and one reason was because of his posture. He visibly lacked confidence and slumped, which moved his face further out into harm’s way.
Simple but brilliant insight.
He told JJ Redick at one point that he, personally, was not worthy of being a champion because he wasn’t willing to put the work in (which he did even though he never won one).
So you can be sure that a lot of value will come out of those two losses.
The second thing is that this team is 15-3 and in second place in a brutally competitive conference.
Fine, fine, you might say, but they should be better.
Well, maybe. You should also remember this though.
This team’s top six players are four freshmen and two sophomores.
It’s a mark of respect, but also mild derangement, that people expect a team that young to not fail.
Of course they will fail and odds are they will fail at the end, too. In its long basketball history, Duke has ended five seasons with tournament victories. And that’s highly unusual. Most teams never get to say that.
We’d argue that there’s an excellent chance Duke would have won both the Clemson and the Louisville games - not 100 percent but maybe 65-70 - if Wendell Moore had played.
Moore, who is out with an injured finger, gives Duke tremendous versatility on defense. He could have defended Jordan Nwora or David Johnson Saturday. He and Cassius Stanley, Tre Jones and Jordan Goldwire give Duke tremendous flexibility on defense. Take him out and it’s just not the same.
Moore isn’t as athletic as Stanley (who is?), but he’s strong and sound, especially on defense. And his versatility allows you to do a lot of options. Duke is much more rigid without him.
We’d also like to point out just how far and how fast Stanley has come. The kid was frankly timid inside early in the season and it’s understandable. Those people are big in there and not especially friendly.
He’s gotten over that lately, as has Matthew Hurt, as we saw on that follow dunk Saturday and his increased willingness to fight inside.
We’re also really happy with what we’re seeing from Joey Baker. His shot will be there. It’s just a question of confidence and getting in rhythm.
What we like is how willing he is to defend, to dive for balls and to fight. Did you notice his huge block Saturday? We saw it and kind of thought...Joey? Did you really do that?
Just as impressive to us though is that he clearly relishes being on the team and is willing to the dirty work. He plays with a tremendous amount of fire.
While it wasn’t a great idea to confront Louisville’s Darius Perry and to get a technical, do you think it warmed Coach K’s heart to see Baker stick up for his teammate Stanley?
We can almost guarantee you it did. We remember one year when someone got knocked to the ground and no teammate helped him up. That was addressed rather quickly and for the rest of the year, teammates sprinted to help guys back to their feet.
Baker has moved from being a somewhat hesitant guy early on to someone who approaches basketball like a marine. Clearly it’s not the same thing - there’s no danger of losing your life in a basketball game typically - but it’s the intensity and the fearlessness he brings that is of immense value, the esprit de corps that he fosters.
The point is that it’s foolish to get overly caught up in the ups-and-downs of a young team. This group has a lot of potential but also a lot to learn. It’s come a long way and in the crucibles of Duke basketball and ACC competition, it will be forged into an even stronger and tighter group soon enough. Duke fans should give them time to grow into whatever they become without ridiculous criticism.
One final note: we’re not sure if he was consciously referring to Roy Williams, who recently said that his team just wasn’t that gifted, among other things, but in his post-Louisville presser, Coach K made it a point to say that he has never, and will never, throw his team under the bus.
He may not have been aiming that at Williams, but around here, those comments will, inevitably, attach themselves to what Williams said. Regardless of intent, there’s no real way around that.