Less Than Perfect
Duke's stunning loss at Florida State exposed several Blue Devils flaws
It Rained giants last weekend. Over a wild 36-hour period on Saturday and Sunday, 12 of the Top 25 teams, including eight of the top 12, were upended during a seismic stretch in an already volatile season. No team suffered a greater—or more surprising-loss than top-ranked Duke. On Sunday night the Blue Devils fell 77-76 to Florida State, which in amassing a 7-5 record had come up short against such powerhouses as American, Northwestern and Western Carolina.
Just as the will-Duke-go-undefeated train was starting to gather steam, the Seminoles revealed that the Blue Devils have flaws. If the defending national champions are to repeat, they must improve in three areas.
?Rebounding. It's not uncommon for Mike Krzyzewski's teams to lack inside muscle—that's the price they pay for a guard-oriented offense that can outrun and outgun most opponents—but this year Duke is particularly vulnerable on the boards. Kentucky had 17 more rebounds when it lost 95-92 in overtime to the Blue Devils on Dec. 18, and Duke was outrebounded 84-61 in its first two ACC games. "We knew that was one area in which they were hurting," said Florida State senior point guard Delvon Arrington after the game. "They have so many ways to score that it's really important to limit them to one shot."
The Blue Devils' rebounding deficiencies become magnified when 6'9" junior center Carlos Boozer gets into foul trouble, as he did against the Seminoles. That's because Duke is getting scant production from front-court reserves Matt Christensen, Nick Horvath and Casey Sanders, who through Sunday were averaging a combined 6.4 points and 74 rebounds. (That slurping sound you hear coming out of Kansas is the sound of rugged Jayhawks' forwards Nick Collison and Drew Gooden licking their chops.)
?Foul-shooting. For a club that has been one of the nation's most potent three-point-shooting teams over the last two years, the Blue Devils have a mysterious knack for going cold from the foul line. They converted a woeful 7 of 19 free throws on Sunday night, including 2 for 8 over the final 1:30. Junior guard Jason Williams, who went 0 for 6 against the Seminoles, had shot 43.4% from three-point range this season but only 64.4% from the foul line. He has been through free-throw-shooting slumps before, most notably a six-game, 1-for-18 stretch toward the end of last season. Duke can ill afford to have its main ball handler be psyched out at the line late in games.
? Chris Duhon's timid trigger. At the beginning of the season it was accepted that Duhon and Williams constituted the country's most talented backcourt. Duhon (8.9 points, 77 shots per game), however, has been too deferential to his running mate, who was getting a team-high 22.4 points and 15.6 shots per game. Though he had nine assists on Sunday (he was averaging a team-high 6.5), Duhon scored only six points on 2-of-9 shooting. With Mike Dunleavy hobbling on a sprained left ankle, the Blue Devils could use another scorer.
Duke has plenty of time to address these deficiencies. Indeed, its biggest problem on Sunday night may have been that it failed to match Florida State's intensity from the outset. "You have to attack them like they attack you," said Seminoles forward Antwuan Dixon, who scored 11 points.
That was a lesson learned throughout college basketball last week as nearly all the top teams showed they have some vulnerabilities. As Dixon and his teammates proved, it doesn't take a handful of magic beans to topple a giant. All it takes is a well-prepared game plan and the will to see it through.
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