Duke lost for the second consecutive game on Tuesday, as Miami snapped the Blue Devils' 41-game home winning streak. How can Coach K's team turn it around?
It’s been a while since Duke lost back-to-back ACC games. How long? Six years, in fact. The Blue Devils last dropped consecutive ACC games in February 2009. Unfortunately for Duke fans, its latest blunder took place in front of a home crowd.
No. 4 Duke fell to Miami at Cameron Indoor Stadium 90-74 on Tuesday night, adding further disappointment to a program that lost to N.C. State just three days ago. The loss to the Hurricanes snapped an NCAA-best 41-game home winning streak, as well as a 19-game ACC home winning streak.
Suddenly the same Blue Devils who beat Michigan State and Wisconsin in nonconference play find themselves with a very pedestrian 2-2 conference record. These don’t look like your regular ACC bluebloods.
Offense hasn’t been a problem for Duke thus far. The team ranks second in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency, and it boasted the ACC’s highest scoring average (83.8 points per game) entering Tuesday. But once again, the Blue Devils had trouble containing a talented offense. The ‘Canes shot 52 percent from the floor, hit 10-of-20 3-pointers and knocked down 22 of their 30 free throws. Angel Rodriguez dropped 24 points, including four treys.
Miami coach Jim Larranaga knew the recipe for beating Duke would involve plenty of offense.
“I told you at halftime we’d have to get 70, 80 or 90 [points] to win,” Larranaga told ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla after the game. “We got 90, so that works.”
The Hurricanes didn’t blow up the scoreboard on their own. They had help from 15 Duke turnovers, including a few key miscues in the final moments from Quinn Cook, Grayson Allen and Matt Jones. But in the end, Duke's defense couldn’t keep Miami at bay.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team can’t seem to escape its very un-Duke-like defensive issues, the same problems that sent the program packing last March. The Blue Devils famously fell to Mercer in their opening game of the NCAA tournament after five players scored in double-figures for the Bears, who also shot a combined 56 percent from the floor. After Tuesday, Duke has allowed its last two opponents to connect on at least 52 percent of their shots.
The best bet for this team seems to be getting by with its offense. In the Blue Devils’ 80-70 win over Wisconsin on Dec. 3, they hit a remarkable 65 percent of their field goals. Against Michigan State on Nov. 18, Duke was out-rebounded by the Spartans 35-25 but escaped thanks to another good shooting night (54 percent).
The trouble is, that recipe might not work against the best teams on Duke’s ACC schedule. Notre Dame, Virginia and North Carolina all sit amongst KenPom’s top 15 teams in adjusted offensive efficiency, with the Irish at No. 1. Each of those teams also sports a better conference record than Duke's current 2-2 mark. Getting in a footrace could be dangerous for the Blue Devils, which is why Krzyzewski likely has plenty of defensive drills lined up this week in practice.
The turnaround will have to be quick: Duke travels to face No. 6 Louisville on Sunday, and consecutive road games against Notre Dame and Virginia loom large at the end of January. Coach K remains in search of his 1,000th career victory, still sitting at 997. While the legendary coach will certainly reach that mark this season, it won’t happen until he returns some defense to Durham.