The Blue Devils have finally picked up their first loss of the season. Should college basketball handicappers be wary of backing Duke in the future? We've got the lowdown inside.
Prior To The Loss
Everything was going swimmingly for the Blue Devils entering the start of conference play. They were undefeated and had already beaten some strong programs like Wisconsin, Michigan, Connecticut and Stanford, and they started off their ACC action with consecutive wins over Boston College (at home) and Wake Forest (on the road).
You could see why Duke was so high up on the futures list, as their roster makeup looks as good as it ever has. They've finally got a reliable big in Jahlil Okafor, and his presence alone has opened up a lot of things for the rest of the team. Fellow freshmen Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow have been playing like they're seniors, and there are a number of other guys who have shown they can contribute for Coach K too.
Needless to say, Duke had picked up quite a head of steam as they entered Saturday's road tilt against NC State, one in which the Blue Devils were favored in by college basketball odds. Few could have seen a 12-point loss coming.
It was close throughout the first half, and Duke actually had the lead for a large chunk of time. However, the Wolfpack made a run to close out the half, and after going back and forth again to start the second, the home team started to pull away with about 10 minutes to go in the game. In the end, NC State finished on top in an unforgettable 87-75 win.
Not only did the Blue Devils struggle from the field - they shot 36.9 percent overall and only hit seven threes (7-of-27 for 25.9 percent) - but they were also pretty terrible defensively. They let the Wolfpack shoot a staggering 55.0 percent overall and 62.5 percent (10-of-16) from the 3-point line. Considering Duke hadn't given up more than 73 points prior to Saturday, it was easily the team's worst defensive showing of the season, and they were made to pay for it.
You had to feel for Okafor and senior Quinn Cook, both of whom played lights out basketball. The freshman sensation had 23 points, 12 rebounds, three steals and three blocks, while Cook went for 18 points and added four boards and two assists. However, the rest of the team didn't provide much, as Winslow was 3-of-13, Jones was 1-of-6, and Matt Jones was 1-of-8. Rasheed Sulaimon made an impact, scoring 12 points off the bench, but it still wasn't enough.
Nothing changes. Duke is still a top three team in the country and should be treated as such when you make your college basketball picks.
Sure, the Blue Devils are going to run into more challenges down the road, as they still have to play numerous ranked teams, including Louisville, Virginia, Notre Dame, St. John's and of course North Carolina. A number of those will come on the road too, so we're certainly going to find out what Coach K's team is made of.
But, for the most part, it's going to be hard to ever fade Duke. We've seen what they're capable of when they're playing well, and they seemingly have all the pieces to make a serious run come March. That's why the Blue Devils will remain one of the top favorites (alongside Kentucky, and Arizona to a lesser extent) on the futures odds list.
What's more, the pressure is off now. If the Blue Devils were hoping to run the table (such a difficult accomplishment, especially in the ACC), now they don't have to worry about it. They can focus on playing basketball and improving with each and every game, which means they're going to be one of my preferred targets in the future.