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Duke's coldest truth

Let's just cut to the chase: Since 2007, Duke is 16-16 in February and March.

That, my friends, would be an average record for a program that's supposed to be anything but.

In 2007, the Blue Devils were young with no true scholarship seniors and one big attitude problem in the form of Josh McRoberts (4-8).

In 2008, the Blue Devils were young with a lot of upside, including two talented freshmen, an emerging sophomore class and a vaunted lone senior captain (10-5).

But in 2009, the Blue Devils are no longer that young; they're 2-3 in February and out of excuses.

So I'm just going to ask what everyone, from basketball pundits to Joe Students to second-rate college journalists, has either been thinking or saying: What's going on with Duke?

I wish I knew the explicit answer to that question-as Duke's current fall seems to be as precipitous and sudden as A-Rod's tumble from grace-but ultimately, I am completely baffled by the mercurial nature of this team.

Going into any one of the team's recent contests--Wake, Clemson, Miami, UNC-I felt as if there were a distinct possibility the Blue Devils could beat their opponent by 20. But I also felt as if they could lose just as big.

So in absence of any deep philosophical or even logical reasoning to explain Duke's woes, all I have are the facts. And the facts in February have not been good.

In the team's four losses, Duke's offensive statistics have been less than stellar, to put it delicately.

At Boston College, Duke went 3-for-16 from the 3-point line and shot 16 percentage points worse than the Eagles from the field.

Against North Carolina, the Blue Devils went 2-for-15 from behind the arc in the second half alone.

At Clemson, Duke shot just less than 31 percent from the floor, 16 points worse than its opponent, and went 3-for-13 from downtown.

At Wake? Try 4-from-22 from deep range.

Basically, this is just a long-winded way of showing that unless this team adjusts its offensive approach, Duke won't be able to beat the teams it has to beat to win the ACC.

For example, although Kyle Singler may have a nice shot from the perimeter, isn't it possible that Duke would be better if the 6-foot-8 forward didn't take a third of his shots from behind the arc against a big and physical squad like UNC?

And it's going to be difficult to win without using a deeper rotation of big men who aren't afraid to actually challenge teams that are more physical-teams like UNC, Wake and Clemson.

Maybe I'm myopic for focusing on these four recent losses, particularly the defeat at the hands of North Carolina, a squad that has been playing lights-out and has to be the favorite for the NCAA title. But guess what? In the business of sports, it's all about what you've done for me lately.

And lately, the numbers don't lie.

Yes, I've heard the copious number of clichés trying to justify Duke's struggles, chief among them being "Live by the three, die by the three."

I've also heard that Duke isn't athletic enough to break a zone or press or that Duke is too weak at the point.

There are probably elements of truth in all of these contentions, not to mention that the Blue Devils have given up more than 81 points on average in their four most recent losses.

Yet though the case seems strong against them, the January Blue Devils still can wake up from hibernation.

It's not too late to get back in the game. It really isn't. Duke is the No. 9 team in the country-yes, I know, it doesn't deserve to be-but perception is reality and perception, to a large extent, fuels March seedings.

And despite their recent history in these most frigid of months, the Blue Devils are inarguably better in 2009 than they were in either of the past two seasons.

But they have to be flexible. They have to adjust. Duke has seen the zone before; it shouldn't be new or disorienting. In fact, now that this team is led by a solid core of upperclassmen, nothing should really be that new or disorienting.

That's why Sunday's second chance against Wake Forest could prove to be the most important game of the season.

A win over the Demon Deacons could, at best, spark a strong finish to Duke's conference slate and would, at a minimum, be a first win over a top ACC foe. A loss could be devastating.

Because before you know it, the calendar will flip and one final loss could make a .500 record in February and March seem more average than it already is.


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