The dreams of an undefeated season are over for Duke. However, that does not mean that this squad cannot still win a national championship.
For that to happen, the recent loss to North Carolina State must serve as a learning experience for this group of players.
Fortunately, there is plenty to build on from this defeat. If the Blue Devils are able to improve upon these factors which cost them the last game, they will be able to be successful throughout the rest of the season.
North Carolina State forward Richard Howell finished with 18 rebounds against the Blue Devils as he helped his team get a 33-31 advantage on the boards.
While Mason Plumlee still got his 11 rebounds, this is not enough. The entire roster needs to pick up the slack in the frontcourt to help replace Ryan Kelly.
Josh Hairston and Amile Jefferson must focus on boxing out and making sure the opposing big men do not get their hands on the ball. At this point, the guards must also come back to the ball to make sure the offense does not get second chances.
The Wolfpack have one of the best frontcourts in the country, but Duke is still set to play some very talented rebounders during the rest of the year. Maryland's Alex Len and North Carolina's James Michael McAdoo are certain to cause problems.
Duke must win the rebounding battle on both sides of the court to keep the team in contention.
One of Duke's trademarks over the years has been great defensive pressure. Players are usually unafraid to get out on the point guard and force him into tough decisions.
This was simply non-existent against North Carolina State.
Lorenzo Brown finished with 13 assists, and the entire team only had 11 turnovers throughout the game. The Wolfpack were simply able to do whatever they wanted offensively.
It does not matter how well the offense functions if the team cannot play defense to keep the opponent off the scoreboard. Last game was simply embarrassing on the defensive end.
Duke must get back to its roots as a strong defensive team that closely guards the ball.
This term encompasses both mental and physical toughness. Against the Wolfpack, both of which were lacking.
In general, the officials let both teams play hard instead of calling fouls. This favored North Carolina State and the Blue Devils did not know how to react. They chose to continue looking for a foul instead of playing more physically.
More importantly, few of the players seemed interested in a comeback once the game started to get away from them.
When Seth Curry went down with a leg injury, they acted like the game was already over.
Duke needs to have the mindset that it is going to win every game, no matter what the scoreboard says. Rasheed Sulaimon has to have more confidence in his ability, even after shooting poorly.
The team was soft against North Carolina State. Over the course of the ACC schedule, this is not going to win games.
An increased toughness will go a long way toward Duke's title hopes this season.