Thursday, February 21, 2008

Duke's struggles point to exciting finish

Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s comments on the Duke radio network Wednesday night won’t get nearly as much attention as those from Sunday night, when Roy Williams’ reaction to a remark about injuries created a national story about a spat between the coaches.

But the postgame interview after the 96-95 loss to Miami was interesting because Krzyzewski stated an unusual amount of disappointment with himself and his team.

He was stunned at how poorly Duke played defensively. He was shocked at the turnovers Duke committed against an opponent that doesn’t exactly pressure the ball.

But he didn’t describe the mechanics that caused the Blue Devils to lose two games in a row after a 22-1 start.

It’s no surprise that Wake Forest’s James Johnson (24 points) and Miami’s Dwayne Collins (26 points) shredded Duke’s defense on the blocks. All season long, opposing post players have scored easily against the Blue Devils when they’ve gotten the ball in the lane.

Until the last two games, Duke had compensated for its lack of a post presence with excellent perimeter defense. The Blue Devils scored off opponents’ turnovers and shut down opposing 3-point shooters.

The last two games, Duke has been the team giving the ball away, with 23 turnovers against Miami and 22 against Wake Forest. Miami shot 7-for-14 from 3-point range against Duke, and Wake Forest was 5-for-11.

If you don’t have any muscle in the post, your perimeter play has to be stellar. And Duke’s hasn’t been the last two games.

It’s true that Gerald Henderson’s wrist injury has prevented him from scoring on drives the way he ordinarily does. But Duke is hardly the only team suffering from a debilitating injury.

Just down the road, North Carolina has rebounded from its loss to Duke with four straight wins without point guard Ty Lawson, tying the Blue Devils for first place in the ACC. It will make for an exciting finish to the regular season, especially when Duke appeared ready to hold a three-game lead when Clemson had North Carolina on the ropes just 11 days ago.

When you look at things in that context, it’s easy to understand Krzyzewski’s disappointment Wednesday night.

– Ken Tysiac