If you read the columns after Duke’s loss to Ohio State, leave alone Twitter and fan sites, you’d think Duke had never lost a game before. It’s a pretty common occurrence. In fact, someone should probably tell Jeff Goodman and Matt Norlander that Duke has never had an undefeated season.
The reaction pretty much has been OH MY GOD DUKE LOST AND NOW IT’S ALL OVER. DUKE’S DOMINANCE IS OVER. WHATEVER WILL WE DO NOW?
This is a complete misread and displays a real ignorance of how Duke does things and why the program has stayed relevant since 1984, when Mike Krzyzewski first got his Blue Devils to the NCAA Tournament.
Here’s the first thing that just about everyone is missing: no one in college basketball, perhaps no one in sports, understands the value of failure like Coach K. This is in fact a valuable opportunity.
First, there’s the chance to look at video. Things we’ve seen include Mark Williams getting a bit hot/frustrated with the refs. Duke once famously made a video for Bobby Hurley showing him exactly why opposing fans called him Baby Hurley as a freshman. It wouldn’t surprise us if Williams got a video. His passion is good but he’s wasting energy complaining about calls even if he’s been right (which he has been on occasion). Or we could be completely wrong. We could also imagine Coach K just focusing on the passion and telling him not to ever stop being passionate. We’re pretty sure he knows what button to push.
There’s also a lot to look at in the backcourt which hasn’t shot well for some time. Defense will keep you in games but at some point you have to score. You can win a game 1-0 - it’s a Tony Bennett wet dream - but at some point you have to put the ball in the basket.
There’s a hell of a lot we don’t know and that’s just the surface stuff. There lots of technique and bad habits to address we’re sure. That’s true for any young players.
The second part is this: whatever Coach K has been trying to get across to his players about what they’re doing wrong individually and collectively? Now he has something to back it up. As we’ve seen over the years, he talks to players in a very blunt way. Two examples come to mind. First when he talked to JJ Redick after (we think) his sophomore year and told him he wasn’t worthy of being a national champion because he wasn’t sufficiently committed. And second was with Nick Horvath.
At one practice, Coach K stopped it and said that Horvath had had a lot of injuries and the reason he had was because he was playing with low confidence and with his head down - and therefore more vulnerable - because his face was more accessible to contact. Pretty simple point: a lack of confidence was costing Horvath and therefore his team.
There are plenty of other examples if you care to look. The point is, he is a natural sports psychologist and while losing stinks, he finds value in losses.
And this is somewhat secondary but not necessarily. The loss to Ohio State comes as Duke heads in to the holiday exam break. That gives a lot of time to analyze video and to talk to players individually. Coach K is, as we like to say, going to get under the hood and tinker with the engine. We’re sure he was aware of whatever issues Duke had long before any of us might have been.
We don’t know what he’s going to adjust but whatever it is, it’ll be fun to see how things work after that. Duke after a loss is actually pretty damn fascinating.