In a fateful defeat that raised more questions than it answered, one thing was apparent for Duke: experience matters.
Saturday was no fun for head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s squad. After what seemed like an endless battle of lead changes and runs, Miami defeated Duke 76-74. The last minute looked like this: Paolo Banchero layup (Duke up by one), steal and slam by Banchero (Duke up by three), and-one layup by Miami’s Charlie Moore, missed free throw by Charlie Moore but rebounded by Miami, Kameron McGusty jumper (Miami up by one), missed layup and foul by Duke, one of two free throws made by Miami, Wendell Moore Jr. missed 3-pointer for the win, Duke rebound, missed 3-pointer by Trevor Keels.
Obviously, there was a lot of frustration for the Blue Devils in that eventful one-minute stretch. Between missed shots, bad defense and tired play, Duke really looked like a young team—an inevitability it has been avoiding all season.
“We're a young team. We're a young team, we got to grow, we got to roll,” Krzyzewski said. “.... We just need to keep getting better.”
The Hurricanes presented themselves with a lineup that was about as experienced as you can get in college basketball. Not one, not two, but three sixth-year seniors found themselves in the starting lineup, with the remaining spots filled in by a third-year sophomore and a fourth-year junior. That combines for 25 years of collegiate experience, an average of five years per starter.
“In order for us to win something special, you’re going to have to beat veteran teams,” Krzyzewski said. “[Miami] is not just an old team, it’s a good team. And they can really handle the ball—you have a couple guys 24 years old, they've been through it.”
With the NCAA’s new rule giving players an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19 affecting the 2020-21 season, players nationwide were given the chance to return for another year, making a lineup of Miami’s stature entirely legal and possible.
Duke, on the other hand, styles in its typically top-recruiting class manner and brought the youth to the court. Moore’s junior status was the highest amongst the starters followed by sophomores and two freshmen. That is a combined nine years of college experience, averaging out to 1.8 per starter. Not to mention AJ Griffin, Blue Devils sixth man Saturday, who contributed 24 minutes off the bench, is also a freshman.
How did this imbalance of experience play out? Well let’s just look at the turnover column. The Blue Devils ended the night -12 in turnover differential after giving up the ball 17 times (13 in the first half) and grabbing it back only five times. That’s surprising enough when considering Miami had 9,000 fans screaming at it in one of the most hostile environments in the nation and it stands out even more when looking at Duke’s +69 turnover differential entering this game.
As any good captain would, Moore placed the blame on himself, as the experienced leader of this Duke squad.
“I kind of feel our Achilles heel this year has been how young we are. I really think that all starts with me,” Moore said. “Tonight, I didn’t lead the guys the way I’m supposed to. Up three with 30 seconds left, I feel like, as a leader, I can’t let our team lose that game.”
Of course for a roster as young as Duke’s, every game is a learning game. There is no changing the team identity away from hyper-talented youth. As the team puts more games under its belt, the youth will become more experienced and the veterans will become seasoned, and by the time tournament season rolls around, the problems that come with youth will likely fade.
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“[The Hurricanes] are really experienced so they came in and played their game and executed,” Banchero said. “So it’s just a lesson learned for us—we’ve got to be sharp because whenever teams play us, they’re going to be sharp as can be and always giving us their best shot. We’ve got to match that and give every team our best shot and be sharp.”