DURHAM Earlier in the season, Duke point guard Quinn Cook alluded to the high expectations set for the program.
“With two losses in the beginning of the year, that hurt,” Cook said after the Dec.
16 Gardner-Webb win. “Guys like myself, Josh (Hairston), Tyler (Thornton), we’re used to getting our first loss in January, February. We have two right now.”
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski and his Blue Devils have won at historic rates since the late 1980s, and, until Monday, Duke was on a streak not seen since John Wooden’s heyday at UCLA.
For 122 straight weeks, starting Nov. 26, 2007 – when George W. Bush was president and Krzyzewski was 10th on the all-time wins list – the Blue Devils were ranked in the top 10 nationally.
But on Monday, after the 79-77 loss at Notre Dame, that streak came to an end.
Duke (11-3, 0-1 in the ACC) is ranked No. 16 in the latest AP poll, its lowest ranking since the end of the 2006-07 season.
Of all the Duke teams that have passed through Cameron Indoor Stadium during that time – including the 2010 national championship team – none has been more athletic than this year’s Blue Devils. That hasn’t translated into dominance, however, as Duke is still finding its way, particularly on the defensive end.
The Fighting Irish exposed old flaws in the Blue Devils, cutting through the lane at will and exploiting Duke’s lack of size in the post. Notre Dame averaged 1.23 points per possession, the most the Blue Devils have allowed an opponent since late November.
Tuesday night will give Duke another chance to work on those issues, as Georgia Tech (9-5, 0-1) comes to Durham.
Like the Fighting Irish, the Yellow Jackets come into the game shorthanded; forward Robert Carter Jr., one of the most productive rebounders in the ACC, has been out since tearing the meniscus in his left knee Dec. 29.
Georgia Tech still has size in the post with 6-foot-11 center Daniel Miller. The senior is the ACC’s active leader in blocked shots and ranks 13th in the conference with a 20.2 defensive rebound percentage (the amount of available rebounds he pulls down). Carter ranks first.
The Yellow Jackets rank third in the conference in defensive rebounding percentage, limiting opponents’ second-chance points by grabbing 73.2 percent of the available rebounds on the defensive glass. In the one game without Carter – a 77-61 loss at Maryland – Georgia Tech still posted a defensive rebound percentage of 85.3 percent.
The Yellow Jackets are more average on the offensive glass, ranking ninth in the ACC with 35 percent. Expect the Yellow Jackets to follow Notre Dame’s blueprint and force the ball inside, as they are the second-worst 3-point-shooting team from a major conference (only South Florida shoots worse than the Yellow Jackets’ 28.8 percent).
It will be up to the Blue Devils to find a better solution to stop Miller and 6-foot-8 Kammeon Holsey than they were able to find Saturday in South Bend for Notre Dame’s post players. In particular, Duke needs Jabari Parker, arguably the best offensive player in college basketball, to play better defense – his deficiencies on that end of the floor played a large part in his benching for the final three-and-a-half minutes of the game.
Krzyzewski, however, didn’t want the learning lesson for Parker to focus solely on sitting for the end of the game.
“A great pitcher who has a 1.80 ERA sometimes gets hit for nine runs in a game, and he’s not in at the end of a game,” Krzyzewski said. “How does he process it – the next time he starts, he tries to be the 1.80 ERA guy.
“No one plays well all the time. The fact that somebody can play well most of the time is what separates you. This was one of the times he didn’t play well, and hopefully those are kept at a minimum.”
As a team, Duke has spent the last six years minimizing poor performances. All this team can do is try to come out with better stuff Tuesday.
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley
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