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(Photo by Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News & Observer/EHYMAN@NEWSOBSERVER.COM)

Blue Review: A 2021-22 Duke Basketball Recap – Game 14 vs Miami

Duke Basketball
Saturday’s game against Miami is one Duke Basketball fans will want to forget, as the Blue Devils, handicapped by 17 turnovers, fell 76-74. (Photo by Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer/EHYMAN@NEWSOBSERVER.COM)

Blue Review: A 2021-22 Duke Basketball Recap – Game 14 vs Miami

Well, Duke, welcome to ACC Basketball.

First things first, you’re going to be hard-pressed to win a basketball game when you turn the ball over 17 times. It was a sloppy effort aided by an offense that is very basic in nature. Dribble handoffs and initiating 50-plus-percent of offensive sets in ‘Horns’ isn’t going to cut it in games like this.

It was the fundamental stuff too that enabled Duke’s loss. Lazy passes into the elbow were an issue, especially from Wendell Moore, something that shouldn’t be a concern as a junior who has seen it all. We saw Mark Williams, with superior size and strength against this Miami team, continually bring the ball down by his waist in the post and get stripped. The Hurricanes had 15 steals on the night. Charlie Moore, a 5-foot-11 guard for the ‘Canes averages 1.7 steals per game this season. He had seven Saturday.

Frankly, it was a game the Blue Devils had no business winning. Yet, after a sloppy drive from Duke’s Moore that somehow found its way to Paolo Banchero – who converted the layup – it felt as if the Blue Devils might escape an early season nightmare. Then, just seconds later, Banchero had a phenomenal strip as Moore completed the sequence with a great outlet pass that saw the freshman dunk the ball as Cameron Indoor erupted in jubilation. The Crazies, Duke faithful and probably 75% of the country thought the game was over, myself included.

But the basketball gods thought otherwise. Jeremy Roach tripped Miami’s Moore and the latter converted a ridiculous falling layup. He missed the resulting free throw, except a poor box out inevitably led to a ‘Canes layup. After a couple of shots from Wendell and Trevor Keels didn’t fall – it’s hard to process everything in late game scenarios, so I give the pair, especially Moore on that late 3-pointer, a pass – everyone saw Duke’s glimmer of hope evaporate as the Blue Devils fell 76-74 to the Hurricanes.

Let’s get into some takeaways from a game that ends with more questions than answers.

In second game back from COVID pause, Duke nearly doubles turnover average

It was touched on earlier, but the ball security against the Hurricanes was so atrocious, it deserves to be mentioned again. The Blue Devils returned to the court against Georgia Tech earlier in the week and struggled to shake the rust off, turning the ball over 14 times. Duke’s bread-and-butter in their opening 12 games was their ability to keep turnovers minimal and record a lot of assists on the offensive end.

Entering the Miami game, Duke averaged 17.2 assists and 9.4 turnovers per game, earning them a 1.84 assist-to-turnover ratio, the third-best mark in the country. Against the Hurricanes, the Blue Devils lost possession an aforementioned 17 times. However, trying to maintain some semblance of a positive spin leads me to their 19 assists. They did share the ball, but in games like Saturday, the hole was too big to dig out of.

Equally concerning is mid-season Wooden Award watchlist member Wendell Moore’s offensive display since the pause. He has nine turnovers in two games, including six Saturday. The sloppiness is uncharacteristic of a player who, through 12 games, was Duke’s go-to offensive playmaker and lead guard for Mike Krzyzewski’s team. Granted, he did score 12 points and snagged an impressive 12 rebounds to go along with seven assists. So, in essence, if Moore settles down in transition and the halfcourt, this team will return to clicking offensively. I trust him to get back there.

Coach K was outcoached

It’s rare that I say this, but Krzyzewski was outcoached, and it happened Saturday at the hands of Jim Larrañaga. The latter took full advantage of Duke’s reliance on ball screen actions in the halfcourt and blitzed nearly every one of them. Blue Devil guards seemingly were unprepared for the situation, and it enabled the turnover conundrum. Consequently, Larrañaga and Miami attacked the Blue Devils’ frequent habit to jump passing lanes, and backdoored players in white uniforms left and right for 40 minutes. And finally, Miami’s coach constantly doubled Williams in the post. The 7-footer doesn’t have a ton of game with his back to the basket and the Hurricanes made him uncomfortable. Ultimately, Miami’s defensive gameplan, sparked by Charlie Moore, was initiated to perfection.

Of Krzyzewski’s own coaching, it just seemed idle at points. The Charlie Moore free throw could’ve used a 7-footer to go after a possible miss. I recognize that without timeouts, Williams could’ve been an offensive liability, but up one point with under 30 seconds to play, grabbing the potential rebound should be the paramount concern. Paolo Banchero, who tallied 20 points on 6-for-10 shooting and is your most talented player, needs to touch the ball in the final 30 seconds. Still, the offensive stagnancy that has handicapped talented Duke Basketball teams in recent year, once again reared its ugly head. There’s little offensive creation and sparkle. You can’t always rely on 18-to-22-year-olds to make plays.

But I come back to this point: this is the greatest college basketball coach of all time. This is a night that Duke will learn from and move on from. Adjustments will be made, but it’s hard not to be critical with memories of this game so fresh.

Is it time for a shake-up in the starting five?

In a game where few positives can be taken, the effort and scoring of A.J. Griffin once again deserves praise. The freshman had 10 points on 4-for-9 shooting (2-for-5 from 3-point range) and six rebounds. It was another good display from the guy becoming this squad’s sixth man. But I ask whether or not this Duke team would be better off with Keels or Roach coming off the bench and Griffin seeing a deserved extension of minutes?

The length and size that Griffin possesses at 6-foot-6, 222-pounds allows him to guard 1-4, adding another dimension to a really good defense. Keels was once again very poor offensively (2-for-11 FG, 1-for-6 from beyond the arc), yet his ball pressure and tenacity on defense is likely too much to warrant a replacement. Roach on the other hand, was part of the crux of Duke’s defensive issues, losing his man on multiple occasions for easy layups. Duke’s best frontcourt is arguably the pairing of Griffin and Banchero, allowing the latter to work solo in the paint and adding a fourth shooter to the wings for the Blue Devils, so maybe Williams makes way, but that’s the least likely of the three proposed switches.

As of Saturday night, Jan. 8, 2022, I doubt Krzyzewski even considers the change, but it’s a potential reality on the horizon in the games to come.

Ultimately, I come to this conclusion: in college basketball and the ACC especially – even in a down year – you’re going to drop games at home. This was one of those nights and it might not be the last Cameron Indoor loss for these Blue Devils this year. It’s ridiculous to think a team of teenagers and young adults will be perfect in a 32-plus game season. Duke Basketball is 12-2 and remains one of the best teams in the country. Questions can be raised but that’s the natural discourse surrounding January college hoops.

In hopes of ending a sour night on a positive note, the last time the Miami Hurricanes marched into Cameron Indoor and emerged with a win was January 2015. We all know what happened three months later, so don’t panic just yet.

***

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