Entering Saturday's game against Clemson, No. 16 Duke was already out of the Associated Press' top 10 for the first time since 2007. After getting whipped by Clemson, the Blue Devils will slide further down in the national rankings. More importantly, the Blue Devils have put themselves behind the curve in a talented ACC field that features national title contender Syracuse.
Duke is now 1-2 in conference play, having also lost on the road against Notre Dame.. Each game presented a different problem for the Blue Devils, both of them on the defensive end. In the game against the Irish, Notre Dame's starting backcourt shot 15-25 from the field overall and three of six from behind the arc. In Saturday's loss at Clemson, the Tigers' frontcourt dominated the paint, with each starter grabbing double digit rebounds. Clemson used their dominance on the boards to torch Duke, with their frontcourt starters combining to shoot 17-32 in the game.
The Blue Devils lack a rim protector, having lost Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee to the NBA. The duo combined to average three blocks per game in 2012-2013, a feat the entire roster has barely equaled this season. Duke is averaging just four blocks per game, with Jabari Parker leading the way with just over a block per contest. Because of his athleticism, Parker can affect shots on multiple spots on the floor. But the freshman can't prevent high-percentage looks at the rim once guards penetrate, that's the job of more traditional 4s and 5s. Coach K just doesn't have those players anywhere on his roster.
Amile Jefferson was expected to pick up some of the slack, but the sophomore forward is averaging just 17 minutes per game. His numbers are good in the limited action, hauling in an average of six rebounds. But Coach K seems content to ride Parker, Rodney Hood and a three-guard set for much of the game. This gives the Blue Devils a formidable offense, but puts a lot of pressure on score-first forwards to play defense around the rim.
Going forward, Duke will need to settle on a lineup that balances legitimate scoring threats with players that keep dribble-drivers out of the lane and affect their shots when they inevitably get there. Expect Coach K to tinker with seven-footer Marshall Plumlee -- the youngest of the three brothers -- and 6'7 Semi Ojeleye, who has shown a knack for blocking shots in his limited game action. The sophomore Plumlee -- like his older brother Mason -- could be a guy who needs time to develop. Mason didn't break out until his junior season, when he averaged 11 points and nine rebounds for Coach K. Though, even at the pace of his brothers, it might not be soon enough to save Duke's ACC title hopes.