set a career high and led his team with 20 points in an upset of Duke. (Chuck Burton/AP)
Syracuse's troubles over the last few weeks kicked off a free-for-all for the fourth No. 1 seed that likely will not end until Selection Sunday when most of the power conferences wrap up their tournaments. After Wednesday night, however, Duke likely won't be the last team on the top line.
Wake Forest, which was 5-11 in the ACC, used a 17-0 run late in the second half and scored 23 of the final 29 points of the game to score a major upset and beat the Blue Devils 82-72. The loss wasn't just the likely death knell for Duke's hopes for a No. 1 seed. It exposed two flaws that could ultimately prevent the Blue Devils from getting to Dallas later this month.
Out of all the No. 1 seeds and contenders for the final spot atop a region, Duke's 55th-ranked adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom is the worst. More often than not this season, the Blue Devils have been able to snuff out their lackluster interior defense on the offensive end. That was not the case Wednesday. Wake Forest sophomore forward Tyler Cavanaugh scored a team-high 20 points, going 5-of-9 from the floor and 10-of-12 from the free throw line. His previous career-high in points scored was 15, set a week and a half ago against North Carolina. He also had attempted double-digit free throws just once before in his career. The Blue Devils had no answer for him when it counted, as the sophomore scored 10 points on Wake's 23-6 run that ended the game.
Secondly, Duke is as dependent on the three as any other national championship contender. According to KenPom, 35 percent of the Blue Devils points this year have come from behind the arc. When they fail to shoot it well from distance, they usually fail to win. Unsurprisingly, Duke struggled mightily from long range against the Demon Deacons, making just six of 27 attempts, or 22.2 percent. Andre Dawkins was 1-of-4, Rasheed Sulaimon was 2-of-8 and Rodney Hood was 1-of-6. Jabari Parker was the only Blue Devil who showed up, scoring 19 points on 7-of-11 from the floor and grabbing 10 rebounds.
Unless they bow out early in the ACC tournament, the Blue Devils are likely locked into a 2-seed in the big dance. They wrap up the regular season at home against North Carolina on Saturday, and could still finish anywhere between second and fourth in the conference in the regular season. They have one of the best offenses in the country, and are a serious threat not just to get to the Final Four, but to win the national championship. If they end up falling short, though, there is a good chance it will be because of the flaws that came through in Wednesday night's damaging loss to Wake Forest.