I’ve been known to preach “perspective” when Duke teams struggle on the road early in ACC play; after all, such struggles have become the norm, not the exception, as Blue Devil squads have skewed younger over the past decade.
But humiliation overshadows perspective, and last night, Duke was humiliated.
That’s the reality no matter how you try to contort yourself to view the Blue Devils’ latest defeat in Raleigh. Duke was down 15-0 and 20-2, not scoring until nearly eight minutes of game time had elapsed. The Blue Devils gave up 13 offensive rebounds to a Wolfpack squad already undermanned in the paint, turned the ball over a staggering 21 times, and allowed star Terquavion Smith to not only light up the scoreboard, but do so with an earned cockiness that few ever achieve against Duke.
Arguably, even the startling 24 point final deficit was closer than the Blue Devils deserved.
It may be time for fans to adjust their expectations, at least in the near-term, for Jon Scheyer’s first Duke squad. Be it due to the well-documented disruptions caused by injury or Scheyer’s inexperience, it’s clear the team lacks an identity entering the meat of the ACC schedule. Against NC State, Scheyer seemed to try every potential lineup combination and defensive strategy looking for a spark; obviously, none came. The Blue Devils lack a go-to group, or even a go-to player, at this stage.
Perhaps that’s understandable, all things considered; after all, even in the one-and-done era this team was returning remarkably little from last season. The lone returning contributor, Jeremy Roach, was supposed to be the rock on which Scheyer relied. Yet, be it due to his own toe injury or being forced into an uncomfortable role, Roach’s struggles continued in Raleigh, going 0-for-8 from the floor in 23 minutes of action.
So, that’s where Duke stands after yet another upset loss on the road to NC State: the team lacks an identity, Coach Scheyer has yet to find a group of five which he fully trusts, and the team’s leader is amidst one of his worst stretches as a Blue Devil.
It’s over. Right? Well, not quite.
The reality of basketball is that it’s a long season, and losses are inevitable. In the NBA, where the sample size is larger, it isn’t uncommon for the best teams to have performances as putrid as Duke’s last night and lose by exorbitant margins to inferior teams. The very best Duke teams have lost by double digits in Raleigh, including the 2010 National Title team; the 2015 National Title team lost by 26 at home to unranked Miami two nights after their own double digit loss in Raleigh.
Now, there’s little evidence that this year’s Duke squad has much in common with either of those legendary teams. Especially with a first year head coach on the bench, maybe it’s time for Duke fans to adjust their expectations accordingly. There will probably be more frustrating performances by this young squad in the coming months.
But the beauty (and, sometimes, pain) of college basketball is that teams are rarely remembered for what they do in January. Coach Scheyer’s first season will be remembered for how his team performs in March. And with two months and plenty of games to go before then, there’s still more than enough time for Duke’s talent to outshine its inexperience.
Duke fans are likely, and understandably, less confident that will eventually happen following a humiliation the likes of which they’ve rarely had to experience. There are no silver linings to last night’s defeat. But it remains just a single result in a long college basketball season; whether the Blue Devils can contain the embarrassment to a single game, rather than let that performance seep into Saturday’s suddenly vital matchup at Boston College, is more important to this team’s chances in March.
Well, would you look at that. Some perspective after all.