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What Now?

How to react as the bubble grows thinner

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 02 Duke at Georgia Tech
Mark Williams for the defense

Understandably, Duke fans are used to winning. Since Mike Krzyzewski showed up, Duke has won 1,095 games and lost just 301.

In its 115 year history, Duke has won a total of 2,201 games. Coach K is responsible for 49.7 percent of those wins after coaching 34.7 percent of Duke’s games.

It’s pretty impressive and it’s been incredibly easy to get used to. In fact, a lot of fans only remember 1995 as a year of struggle, less remember his very difficult second and third seasons and fewer still remember the 1970s when guys like Paul Fox and Pete Kramer competed against guys like David Thompson, Phil Ford and John Lucas.

So in the big scheme of things, while we’d all like every season to be brilliant and memorable - who wouldn't? - the truth is that there is value in struggle for both the team and fans.

At some point, and this young team is very close to that, you get so sick of the struggle that you refuse to accept it anymore.

We’ve seen a lot of brilliant things from this team, in parts if not the whole group. Who would have thought that Mark *“The Law” Williams would become one of the best centers in the conference so quickly? Who knew that he had such a subtle game to reveal? And why did we just call him The Law?

Because on defense, Williams is the long arm of the law. Try to shoot around him and you’re busted!

He may not be the best right now but we don’t think any ACC center is smarter.

Matthew Hurt has had an amazing run lately and shown offensive skills that are at an elite level. Wendell Moore has become the Swiss Army knife we expected him to be.

The guards have been more erratic, but overlooked in last night’s loss at Georgia Tech is this: Jose Alvarado was almost a non-factor. He ultimately finished with 10 points but on 3-10 shooting and three assists. Compare that to his near surgical performance at Duke where he finished with 25 points on 10-15 from the floor. More importantly, his will was dominant in Durham.

Duke dealt with him well Tuesday and held Georgia Tech to 6-22 from behind the line.

The problem for Duke was simply this: the Yellow Jackets are older and stronger. That was one of the rougher games we’ve seen in awhile and Duke simply couldn’t match Tech’s physicality.

Partly as a result, the Yellow Jackets were 17-23 from the line to Duke’s 10-17. That’s a difference of six points, which is obviously key in a four-point loss.

You can’t go back in time and change a play here or a foul shot there and expect the rest of the space-time continuum to not be affected. Albert Einstein and Mr. Spock cleared that up decades ago.

So you certainly can’t say that Williams’ three missed free throws in overtime cost Duke the game - you’d have to blame Jaemyn Brakefield for missing a potential game-winner with time running down to do that - and we don’t want to do either. Individual players can make winning plays, but teams win games.

Having said that, the free throws would have helped, just as having Matthew Hurt on the court at the end would have helped.

But you can’t go back and change things. We have to live with the loss.

One of Krzyzewski’s great strengths as a communicator is that he simplifies things and relays them bluntly.

We have no way of knowing what he said to his team in private but we’d be really surprised if he didn’t tell them that the reason Tech won was because they were tougher. This wouldn’t apply so much to Moore and Williams, but to the rest of the team, it’s probably fair.

When you look past Williams, who was 9-9 from the floor, by the way, and Hurt and Moore - the three of them combined to shoot 23-33 - the rest of the team shot 7-32.

In other words, three players shot close to 70 percent and the other seven shot just under 22 percent.

Time is running out on this pandemic season and as we’ve said before, everyone deserves an asterisk. You can’t have expected things to have any kind of flow. Just look at Baylor: they were on cruise control with a legitimately great team. Covid forced a pause and they lost their first game back and nearly the second last night to West Virginia.

All anyone will remember later is those scores but there was a reason for them and if Baylor doesn't do well the rest of the way, well, what can you do?

We’re not overly worried about the players. They’ll develop and come back as much better versions of themselves. We’re particularly excited to see what happens with Williams after he puts on some serious muscle. Look how often he gets pushed around when he has the ball under the basket. With some more power, no one will be doing that anymore. They’ll all apply the lessons from this season and be better for it down the road.

As far as us fans go, a bit of humility is not a bad thing. Duke has had amazing success for decades but Duke is not North Carolina or Kentucky. We’ve had periods of struggle before and surely will again.

The thing to ask yourself as a fan is this: do you like this program because it wins? Or because it works hard to do things the right way and also wins?

Our advice is simple. First, remember this is a bizarre year in every aspect and sports is a very small part of it. Far too many people have struggled to breathe, then to live. We’re glad for the diversion basketball offers but it’s hardly life or death we’re talking about.

And second, Duke is working hard and the players, as we saw last night, certainly haven't given up.

Neither should its fans. This is an opportunity for us to point out that, unlike some Tar Heel fans and especially Kentucky BBN, that we’re not going to turn on our team.

So let’s suck it up and get ready for the rest of the season, starting with Saturday’s trip to Chapel Hill. We can’t be there for that but we can certainly all help to create a positive atmosphere, especially on social media. We’d encourage everyone to post positively and to remember that when you slam players, you’re slamming teenagers and young men. What’s the point in that?

Our team can be better and so can we: this is a chance to show why Duke fans are different.