Alarms are sounding for the ACC's preseason favorite.
Duke has limped out of the gate in conference play with two early losses—both resulting from second-half meltdowns in front of gleefully hostile crowds.
Concerns with on-ball defense, rebounding and interior size have cooled the team’s summer recruiting buzz like an arctic vortex. There will be no rest for the weary as head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils face a quick turnaround, hosting Virginia Monday at 7 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“We are a very young team,” Krzyzewski said after Saturday’s 13-point loss to Clemson. “We get predicted to do something based on me being old, and that is the way it is. And we have to measure up to something that we probably were not good enough to do to begin with.”
The Blue Devils (12-4, 1-2 in the ACC) play in a league where only the combination of superb talent and maximal effort will yield success. Even the slightest lapses—missing one box-out, settling for one bad shot, or taking one play off—can shape the difference between win and loss.
“Who in our league does not have talented players? Everyone has talented players,” Krzyzewski added. “We have got to take steps to try to get to be good, because the league is unforgiving.”
Senior captain Tyler Thorton knows there is no time for wound nursing or soul searching.
“Every ACC game is important,” Thornton said after Saturday's loss. "Every loss—no matter what time of the season it is—is going to hurt the same. We are trying to build a resume for our tournament, and things can go bad quickly, so we have just go to adjust and get ready for Monday.”
Duke will be preparing for Virginia (12-4, 3-0), a team that has been perfect in ACC play with two conference wins by 20 points or more.
The Cavaliers were able to rest several key starters in the second half of their 31-point blowout victory against N.C. State Saturday. After a light practice and film session Sunday, the team will arrive in Durham looking to continue its ACC success. Even with the early conference wins, head coach Tony Bennett expects a tough contest in Durham.
“Coach K is obviously one of the best the game has known,” Bennett said after his team's victory in Raleigh Saturday. “[Duke] will come back ready. They have such talent and such energy in that building, so we will have to be ready as we can and be purposeful or it will be tough.”
Bennett will look for his scoring guards to command the offense in front of a raucous crowd. Senior Joe Harris, a 6-foot-6 sharpshooter who leads Virginia at 10.7 points per game, should get particular attention from Blue Devil defenders.
Harris’ backcourt mate, sophomore Malcolm Brogdon, is the only other Cavalier averaging in double figures. Brogdon, tallying 10.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, is a versatile combo-guard with the ability to attack the rim. Limiting Harris and Brogdon will be key to slowing down Virginia’s balanced attack.
Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey, and Akil Mitchell will anchor the Cavaliers’ post presence. Mitchell, a tireless 6-foot-8 senior averaging 6.6 points and 6.4 boards per contest, is probably Virginia’s best frontcourt scorer. The Charlotte native threw down a monstrous dunk over Mason Plumlee last year—Jabari Parker and Amile Jefferson will have to be wary of helping off of him down low.
After a frustrating weekend loss, junior Quinn Cook and his Duke teammates will be looking to right the ship and live up to the Blue Devils' preseason expectations as an ACC contender.
“It is a matter of mindset,” Cook said. “You cannot just talk the talk—you have got to go out there and do it.”