CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.—If you were asked "Which three Blue Devils are going to lead the team?" the response would seem simple at first. Tre Jones and Vernon Carey are easy answers, but the third is a whole lot trickier.
While "depth" and "balance" have been used to praise this Duke team, the fact that head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s constant tinkering has not yet yielded a consistent third option is extremely concerning given the fact that the calendar has turned to March.
The idea that anyone could lead the Blue Devils on a given night was a motivator and the team stormed through the first three months of the season with that mindset. But, with opponents' added focus on Jones and Carey from the opening tip, Duke has had to waste precious time searching for another threat, as was the case for all 40 minutes Saturday.
Blue Devils not named Jones and Carey combined to shoot an astonishing 6-for-34 from the field and the leading scorer of the pack was Javin DeLaurier with six points. Down the stretch, Duke was forced to rely on tough shots by Jones and Carey due to the fact that no viable third option emerged.
“We would love to find more than a third [scoring option]. Our wings didn’t score at all today,” Krzyzewski said. “That's the level of inconsistency we have with our experience. We're not an old team…. We just have to keep getting experience. I've said it from the get-go, we're very much a developing team, we won a lot of games. Now we've lost three out of four. And the world hasn't come to an end or anything but also how do you get your experience except by being in these in these games? So I hope this will help us.”
Wendell Moore Jr., Matthew Hurt and Cassius Stanley have had plenty of big games throughout the season, but the large variation in their performances has been a major detriment. When playing close games in March, it is crucial to maximize the rotation. For the Blue Devils to make a deep run in either the ACC or NCAA tournament, consistency is going to be key.
Take Saturday for example: Hoping to snap a streak of nine consecutive slow starts on the road, Krzyzewski opted for size and offense with the 6-foot-9 sharpshooter Hurt over defensive stalwart Jordan Goldwire. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, the opening announcements would be the last we’d hear about Hurt.
The Rochester, Minn., native was a non-factor throughout the contest with no points, rebounds or assists over nine minutes of play. Hurt entered the game with double-digits in three of his last four contests.
Hurt would not be alone, however, as fellow starters Stanley and Moore combined for a dismal 2-for-14 effort and six points.
“We thought with their two bigs and, with Vernon, you need somebody to hit some shots so that, he does pass the ball out, and we haven't been able to find that consistently,” Krzyzewski said on starting Hurt. “Certain games, we get it, and tonight we did not and I don't know if that's because they're working so hard defensively.”
While Virginia’s pack-line defense certainly exacerbates the issue, guessing who are going to be the best players on a given night has caused the Blue Devils a deal of trouble this season. Unlike in past years, the starting five more often than not has not been the top five players according to the box score at the end of the game.
In each of Duke’s 10 ACC road games, one of Krzyzewski’s starters scored four points or less. While Goldwire and Moore provide the majority of their value on the defensive side of the ball, the Blue Devils’ search for a third option out of the gate has often gone awry—instead forcing quick substitutions like Saturday.
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For the Blue Devils to make a deep run this March, they will need offensive consistency from Hurt, Moore, Stanley and Goldwire. Each of those four players average more than 4.5 points per contest, which means that one of them has underperformed in every ACC road contest.
If Duke wants to march into April, it will be desperate for performances such as Stanley’s 22 points against Louisville, Moore’s 25 points against Wake Forest and Hurt’s 22 points against Miami, rather than some of the no-show nights, such as Saturday, that each has had as well.
“[Jones and Carey are the] focal points of our offense and good decision-makers, and they’ve been doing that all year,” senior captain Jack White said. “And other guys are ready. We’re real confident in one another. It’s just how the game goes.”