As far out as Charlie Sheen may seem, he is correct on one point.
Winning feels a whole lot better than losing.
For Duke, losing to North Carolina at any point in the season stinks.
But this loss this late in the season must serve as a quick learning lesson or else the Blue Devils will be caught suffering an even more disappointing defeat early in the NCAA tournament.
First, Mike Krzyzewski will have to figure out a way to combat the difference down low on the offensive and defensive ends. The Carolina frontline that features 7-foot Tyler Zeller and 6-foot-10 John Henson simply dominated Duke’s big men with the two combining for 24 points to the nine combined points scored by the Plumlee brothers and Ryan Kelly.
While Miles Plumlee made up for his foul-plagued brother, Mason, on the boards with 11 rebounds, Zeller and Henson had 17 boards together. More so than anything, they made life hellish for any player besides Nolan Smith driving into the paint.
Which brings me to the second issue.
Kyle Singler is clearly fatigued. His shots have been short, his game has been less than electric and his ability to score has been vastly affected.
Besides the game against Temple in which the 6-foot-8 Oregon native scored 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting, Singler has struggled in the other February games. The Most Outstanding Player of last April’s Final Four has converted fewer than 30 percent of his field goal attempts over the past month and has not hit clutch shots he did earlier this season, particularly missing 27 of his last 33 3-point attempts.
Perhaps he has been emotionally affected by the season-long MVP-type play of Smith. Perhaps he has been affected by the future–namely, how NBA scouts feel his game will translate on the next level.
Whatever the case, Coach K understands the concern, but still has faith in his senior co-captain.
“He’s just not shot well this last month,” Krzyzewski said. “Look, I’ve gone to really good places with my best players having confidence in these guys, and I’ll continue to do that. He’s been part of 120 wins, and he’s a national champion.”
Finally, Duke prides itself on defense, specifically the man-to-man type. Coach K and his staff will have to give this group a crash course in how to amp it up and become even more proficient or teams like Carolina and St. John’s will easily roll over the Blue Devils.
The Red Storm first exposed Duke because the Blue Devils don’t have a defensive stalwart in the paint like they did last season with Greg Zoubek. Amazingly, it has become more and more clear this late in the season that the 6-foot-10 Plumlee tandem and the 6-foot-11 Kelly lack the presence to affect opposing teams that feature either a physical force like Virginia Tech’s Jeff Allen, who had 18 points and 15 boards in Duke’s loss a week ago, or a long, athletic player like Zeller or Henson.
To combat these issues, Duke may have to try playing the Plumlee brothers and Kelly at the same time when playing teams of height. Coach K will also have to use a zone defense at times even though this flies against philosophy.
Singler should rest as much as he can over the next few days leading up to the ACC Tournament, as well.
If certain tweaks are made here and there, the Blue Devils will actually perform quite well in the tournament considering many of them are battle-tested for it. If adjustments aren’t made, an early exit like in Singler’s freshman year to West Virginia could occur.
About the Author
Written by Chris Girandola
I currently write for the St. Petersburg Times, MLB.com, the Naples News, Demand Studios, LiveStrong, Fuel Football, Fuel Basketball and Fuel Football.