Everyone expected growing pains from yet another young crop of Blue Devils. Now, it’s time to see how they will respond.
No. 8 Duke will welcome a familiar face in Miami to Cameron Indoor Stadium Tuesday at 9 p.m. to try to end its recent slide. The Hurricanes will be the first opponent Duke plays for a second time, with the Blue Devils falling in Monday's AP poll after losing two straight games as a top-5 team for the first time since 2015.
In the teams' previous matchup, the Blue Devils dominated Miami 95-62 behind an impressive 24-point, nine-rebound outing from Vernon Carey Jr., the hometown hero. Miami looked like it could keep things close in the first half, but a scorching 59.7 percent mark from the field and 64 points in the paint from the visitors all but sealed things for Duke.
“They did not have a good last 10 minutes against us, but they are a good basketball team,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They’ve gotten better. [Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga] has done a really good job with them, especially considering the guys that haven’t been able to play from injuries… They’re a formidable opponent, [Larrañaga] is one of the best coaches and he’ll have his team ready.”
The last time freshman forward Wendell Moore Jr. appeared in a game was that last contest against the Hurricanes (10-7, 2-5 in the ACC), as Moore was injured late in the game and has now missed the last four contests with a broken bone in his right hand. The Blue Devils certainly miss Moore’s versatile defense, but the Cox Mills High School product’s return seems like it will come sooner rather than later.
“He keeps progressing,” Krzyzewski expressed. “There is no question we’re a little bit different team without him. The athleticism and where he was playing. We hope that in a few weeks, in February, he’ll be back with us. He’s progressing well and he’s staying in good shape. Obviously he’s not doing anything with his right hand, but he’s staying in shape.”
Even with the blowout win two weeks ago, Duke (15-3, 5-2) could really use Moore in the lineup to match up with three Miami guards who all average at least 14 points per game. The Blue Devils held each member of the Hurricane guard trio to 12 points or fewer, including a 2-of-15 shooting performance from Chris Lykes, however, Dejan Vasilvejic, Kameron McGusty and Lykes will still provide a challenge against a shortened Blue Devil roster.
Duke now embarks on a five-game stretch that doesn’t include a top-25 opponent, but last week’s loss to Clemson proves that the ACC isn’t going to be as easy as some thought it would be, wiht any game bringing the potential for a loss.
“It’s at a different level,” Krzyzewski emphasized. “In our sport, only 68 teams make the tournament.… You face really hungry opponents, especially during mid to late- January and all of February and early March.”
A two-game skid certainly isn’t the end of the world for the Blue Devils, but if the young roster can’t bounce back quickly from these recent growing pains, then a ACC regular season title and No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament will fly out the window quickly.
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