Duke Basketball: The road ahead after Clemson

In what was a statistically even matchup, it was Duke’s inability to keep Clemson from scoring (57% FG) that proved to be their undoing.

Clemson broke a 0-59 streak against UNC in Chapel Hill on Saturday with a 79-76 OT win, and rode that momentum to a 79-72 home victory against Duke last night. With injuries resulting in DNP’s for Wendell Moore and Joey Baker, Duke showed up to Little John Coliseum a bit short-handed. Vernon Carey Jr. and Cassius Stanley getting into foul trouble didn’t help. In the end, Aamis Simms and Tevin Mack proved too much for the Duke interior defense, scoring 25 and 22 points respectively. The pair shot a combined shot 4-7 from beyond the arc.

While Carey posted 20 points and 7 rebounds, his effort was not enough to counteract Duke’s lack of bench production. Baker’s streaky three-point shooting would have come in handy during several possessions near the end of each half. The Blue Devils also increasingly felt the absence of Moore’s “Swiss Army Knife” skill-set as the ACC season continues to trudge on through the remainder of January and into February.

With Coach K’s “safe” approach to injuries we can expect to see another DNP for Baker on Saturday against #11 Louisville, and perhaps even longer for Moore. So what does this mean for Duke moving forward? Certainly getting Baker and Moore back sooner rather than later will help. But Louisville will have no pity for the beleaguered Devils this coming weekend.

Three Things Duke Must Do To Adjust To Life Without Baker and Moore:

  1. “Hurt” opponents more consistently: Matthew Hurt is doing his best Ryan Kelly impersonation as he has seen a steady decline in scoring production since his 25-point outing against Boston College. He finished with a whopping two points tonight against Clemson.

  2. No more “Stuttering Stanley”: We have seen flashes of Cassius Stanley’s potential greatness. It is now time for Coach K to trust him in taking over games. With a short bench and the loss of a player with Moore’s versatility, Cassius will have to tap into his athleticism and drive more consistently to provide Duke that edge that they need when the chips are down.

  3. Communicate on defense: After seeing this team play live at Georgia Tech, it is clear that they are much more serious, focused, and quiet than last year’s team. In many ways that is a positive, but on defense they are getting beat because they are not talking. Coach K preaches this and it is certainly a focus he will have with these guys in upcoming practices. If this team will continue to excel they can’t have “off” games on defense and that starts with verbal communication.

This young Duke team is talented and they have a point guard in Tre Jones with poise beyond his years. Even though this year’s Blue Devil squad seems destined to repeat the time honored tradition of key untimely injuries (i.e. Bobby Hurley, Elton Brand, Kyrie Irving and Zion Williamson) there is no reason to sound the alarm bell just yet. A team this young will win some games that they shouldn’t and lose some that they shouldn’t. If Duke can get healthy and return to that 10-man rotation that reaped success earlier in the season, they should be poised for a deep run in March.

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