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Blue Devil offense lacks consistency

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski could only roll his eyes and turn back to the bench as if to say, "What are they doing?"

With 10 seconds remaining in the first half of Wednesday's game against Penn, freshman point guard Greg Paulus picked up his dribble near half-court with no place to go. Without teammates in his vicinity, the freshman had to quickly call Duke's second timeout in just 47 seconds.

Although the Blue Devils played their best defense in three games, their offense looked out of sync and unprepared for Saturday's showdown between the nation's top-two teams.

"It's one of those games where we did some things that you can't even explain on the offensive end," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. 

Duke improved to 8-0 on the season, but the mood in the locker room following the game gave the impression that the team had just suffered its first loss.

With the exception of the Blue Devils' 53-point win over Seton Hall Nov. 16, the nation's No. 1 team has been challenged in every game and has beaten its opponents by an average of just 11.7 points per game. Not to take anything away from those teams-most of which are led by experienced coaches running disciplined programs-but Duke has not looked like the team most people expected them to be when the season began.

"With the Duke standards, when we don't play as well as we know we can, it's disappointing," senior Lee Melchionni said. "We played good defense, but we can definitely play better on the offensive end."

Eight games into the season, the Blue Devils still have not established an identity on offense.

Although the team is loaded with outstanding shooters to complement the nation's top long-distance threat, senior J.J. Redick, several Duke players have experienced early-season slumps and are still inconsistent.

Senior Shelden Williams has proven he can be a dominant inside force-he tied a career high with 30 points against Memphis Nov. 25-but the Blue Devils have seemed to forget about him for long stretches of close games.

Without a clear vision and direction for their offensive scheme, Duke has been hesitant in their half-court sets.

"I'm not sure what it is on offense," Melchionni said. "I think we have the tendency to watch J.J. and Shelden on offense, and that's something we can't do."

Part of the problem has been incorporating the freshmen into a scheme that the team's four seniors have been running for the past four years. Although Josh McRoberts and Paulus showcased their potential in wins against top-25 teams Memphis and Indiana, the duo has looked out of sorts in its last two games.

Without sophomore DeMarcus Nelson, who Krzyzewski expected to be the Blue Devils' third scoring option behind Redick and Williams before his injury, the freshmen's inconsistencies have been even more apparent.

Paulus recorded just two assists and turned the ball over a season-high five times. His frustrating night ended with 3:49 remaining when the referees called him for his second charge of the game, his fifth foul.

"The best thing for us is not to put too much emphasis on everything that happened tonight but to move on to the next thing," Krzyzewski said. "At least that will be my approach."

Although Duke's offensive performance Wednesday may have been its most disappointing of the season, the inability to consistently score and sustain runs has been a chronic problem that the Blue Devils need to fix quickly.

Even Krzyzewski admitted Wednesday that Duke is not playing to its potential.

There's no reason to panic, however, because one thing is for sure-the Blue Devil team that played Wednesday night is not the same team Krzyzewski will be guiding in March.

He would never let that happen.

They are going to improve. The seniors and freshmen are going to develop a stronger rapport. And the offense will find itself. It's just a matter of time.

"It's good that we're struggling," senior Sean Dockery said. "You get to learn. It's early in the season, and we're still a young team, and we're still learning from each other. I don't feel like we're playing bad-I feel like we're learning. And we keep winning. We don't have an 'L' yet, so we're in good shape. We just have to learn from our mistakes and keep going."

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