It’s turning out to be a special season for Duke and Mike Krzyzewski, losing three games in a row following a home defeat to Syracuse, 64-62, and possibly falling out of the rankings for the first time in over eight years.
The Orange dominated the boards in Cameron while controlling the second half, making it their kind of game by forcing the Blue Devils to shoot just 37.1% from the field, while grabbing 26 offensive rebounds (there were 44 of them in the game). Tyler Robinson, who was one of four players with 14 points for Syracuse, grabbed 20 rebounds, including 12 of them on offense. After the game, he said he was simply anticipating misses and standing in the right spot.
Duke have a big problem in the frontcourt while Amile Jefferson is gone and even when he does come back in a month or a bit more, they’re bench doesn’t leave them room for any mistakes. Krzyzewski used only seven players in the game and one of those coming from bench, Sean Obi, played just two minutes. Marshall Plumlee led the team with 19 points and 17 rebounds while Grayson Allen helped with 18 points. But that didn’t stop Duke from losing three in a row for the first time since dropping four straight in 2006-2007. That was also the last time they weren’t ranked. Their most recent ranking? Number 20, but that was before their home loss to Syracuse, falling to 14-5 this season and 3-3 in the ACC.
Syracuse are blossoming since Jim Boeheim came back from his nine game suspension, winning three of four and not allowing more than 62 points in any of those games. Boeheim had time to have some fun with Duke fans, who urged him to take off his jacket after talking to one of the officials, referring to his ejection during a meltdown two years ago in the same court while throwing away his jacket. This time he just teased, and earned a laugh from the slightly desperate Blue Devils fans, not used to this kind of mediocrity.
In his defense, Krzyzewski had been hinting at his team’s weakness all season long. The pollsters may love Duke and stick with them through thick and thin, but this team has shown us a number of times they simply aren’t that special; not at this point of the season and probably not later on, simply lacking the quality to make a deep run or win the ACC. Still, it’s worth remembering how much flack the 2014 Kentucky team took during the regular season before making a clutch kind of run in the NCAA tournament, making the championship game before losing to Connecticut.
To make things worse, North Carolina still haven’t lost in the ACC this season, and are up to number two in the national rankings. This season isn’t over yet, but after such a high last year, the tradition of replacing one-and-done freshman who go to the NBA with more freshman hits a roadblock from time to time, like it has for Kentucky this season as well. Maybe the fact that they’re playing North Carolina State next, an 0-5 team in conference play so far, will make things a little better for Duke, right now behind six different teams in the standings.