That Duke lost to Virginia Thursday night was not unsettling. Vegas had UVA as the home favorite and KenPom.com had the game as the toughest remaining on Duke’s schedule. So, that Duke lost was not unsettling. How Duke lost, though, gave me a pounding headache and anxiety for the rest of the season.
This wasn’t an exact replica of the game in Coral Gables. Both games started with Duke getting run out of the gym for the first 6 minutes or so. UVA came out quicker and more aggressive. They fought through screens on defense and immediately double-teamed Mason Plumlee whenever he got the ball. The set hard screens on offensive and went to the boards with more effort than Duke (which is to say more than zero effort).
The difference in this game was Duke’s response. I am not saying it was a good response, but it was a response. At Miami, the Devils laid down and died. And early on. The only players with any life in that game were Murphy and Jefferson. In Charlottesville Duke’s response was to get frustrated, but not in a way that incites a stronger, more focused effort. No, it was in a way that incited complaints to the refs, bad fouls, and an overall lack of composure from a fairly seasoned team.
It also didn’t allow for any productive adjustments. With UVA fighting so hard through screens and overplaying perimeter passing, no Duke player slipped the screen or gave a backdoor cut. With immediate double-teams on Plumlee, no Duke player cut to the basket when their defender ran at Plumlee. Not that it would have mattered, because Plumlee took to running to the 3pt line to get away from the DT. Seems like these would have been pretty easy adjustments. Mason was the tallest on the court (he often is), but he didn’t square up with the ball high and look for a (non-existent) cutter.
This game was not as close as the score implies. UVA was in charge the entire time. If they had hit several open shots in the second half, the score might have approached the Miami whooping. What bothers me about this is that UVA imposed their will on Duke. They were stronger, tougher, and just wanted it more. Take a look at that last sentence. Over the years, wouldn’t I have been talking about Duke? For a team with 4 upperclassmen in the rotation, shouldn’t they be the ones bending the other team to their will? Shouldn’t they be the ones responding positively to adversity?
I am not even going to single out Mason Plumlee for his performance in this game (it was really bad). This Duke team right now doesn’t appear to have the fortitude or leadership to manage games and force the outcome. Everyone points to Ryan Kelly as being a vocal leader on the court, and I won’t dispute that. But if he can’t turn this team’s confidence around with his return, I see a future of a 1-2 finish to the regular season, a semi-final exit from the ACCs, and an early round NCAA loss to, I don’t know, Lehigh?
How does Duke finish the regular season?
3-0 - The UVA game was an anomaly (9 votes)
2-1 - Devils pull out a win against Miami or UNC (7 votes)
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