Duke is breaking in yet another heralded freshman class, though this one has been humbled much more quickly than last year's.
Mike Krzyzewski will look for his fifth-ranked Blue Devils to bounce back Friday night against VCU at Madison Square Garden in a 2K Classic semifinal.
Duke (2-1) overpowered Siena and Bryant, winning by a combined 56 points, before being held to 40.7 percent shooting in a 74-63 loss to No. 2 Kentucky on Tuesday in Chicago. The Blue Devils, who opened 14-0 last season despite three freshman starters before back-to-back double-digit losses, trailed by as many 16 points in the second half.
"We can be a really good team," Krzyzewski said. "We have a lot of improvement ahead of us. We just have to accept that and go on and do it."
After starring in the national title game against Wisconsin, Grayson Allen scored 54 points on 16-of-31 shooting in Duke's first two games while committing only three turnovers. Kentucky limited him to six points on 2-of-11 shooting - including 0 for 9 in the first half - and he had four giveaways.
"I think they did a great job today of helping off and pressuring our drives and meeting us at the rim," Allen said.
The lone freshman starter, Brandon Ingram, struggled. He was 1 of 6 for four points with four turnovers and one assist in 19 minutes, while fellow newcomers Luke Kennard and Chase Jeter totaled two points. Freshman Derryck Thornton scored seven points in 29 minutes but also had four turnovers.
Outside of a 13-for-26 performance Saturday against Bryant, Duke is 11 of 38 (28.9 percent) from 3-point range.
Krzyzewski can be encouraged by his team's play on the interior, however. Amile Jefferson, his most experienced player, had 16 points and 15 rebounds and was 7-of-8 shooting, while Marshal Plumlee added 12 points, 10 boards and blocked six shots.
"Tonight I think our bigs played great," Allen said. "Moving forward, on the perimeter, we have to kind of match their intensity and match their energy."
Shaka Smart may be gone, but VCU (2-0) is still employing the frenetic style it came to be known for during his tenure. The Rams, who led the nation in turnovers forced for three straight seasons before finishing 12th in 2014-15, have forced 42 through their first two games under coach Will Wade.
They were 13 of 24 from 3-point range in Monday's 92-74 win against Radford, though they shot a worse percentage from the field (47.6) than the Highlanders (48.1).
"We've got to be twice as good as we were on Friday to give ourselves a chance," Wade said. "If we don't prepare we're going to get embarrassed on Friday night."
Melvin Johnson is averaging 18.5 points and is 9 of 18 from beyond the arc.
Duke won the last meeting 67-58 on Nov. 23, 2012, in a Battle 4 Atlantis semifinal in the Bahamas. The then-sixth seeded Blue Devils were upset by the Rams, 79-77, in the first round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament.
They're 26-8 at Madison Square Garden under Krzyzewski, winning 18 of the last 21.
The winner will face Wisconsin or Georgetown on Sunday.