Who Is to Blame for Duke's Loss to Mercer?
Duke's 78-71 second round loss to 14-seed Mercer was unexpected and agonizing.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski was forced to pull out all the stops against the Bears, but the Blue Devils still came up short.
This game sadly resembled the opening game beating that the Blue Devils took in 2012 at the hands of 15-seed Lehigh.
The big question now is: Who is responsible for Duke's loss to Mercer? Who is to blame?
Here are a few ideas:
5. Duke's Mental Preparation
Duke did not appear to be mentally or emotionally prepared to play Mercer today.
They did not look like the confident and poised group that was projected to possibly make a deep run in the 2014 NCAA tournament.
Much of the game, the Blue Devils lacked intensity on defense and at times appeared lifeless on offense.
In the postgame press conference (GoDuke.com), Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said, "We showed our youth... They're (Mercer) men. They are strong."
He also said, "There's no way we overlooked that bunch. We had the utmost respect for that basketball team. We should, and we will because they beat us."
Getting ready to play against a team that everyone says is inferior has some unique challenges.
The players must choose to respect all opponents that they face and prepare for everyone the same. Much easier said than done.
I do not know what Coach K and his staff did to get the Blue Devils ready to play Mercer. I have no idea what the players' process was or if it differed from any other game.
What was obvious today was that Mercer was the more confident, more assertive and more dynamic team in the early game in Raleigh.
4. Duke's Shooting
The Blue Devils had a good, shooting day beyond the arc against Mercer (15-of-37; 40.5 percent).
Duke's problem came on their two-point field-goal attempts, where they hit a mere 7-of-25 (28 percent).
With having 16 offensive rebounds, Coach K's crew should have been able to get plenty of putbacks and second chance buckets.
The Blue Devils top two scorers struggled inside the arc against the Bears. Freshman forward Jabari Parker hit 4-of-11 two-pointers. Sophomore forward Rodney Hood did not make one of his five two-point attempts.
This team has not struggled this season to knock down twos. On the year, they hit 50.4 percent of their attempts inside the three-point line (Kenpom.com).
Credit Mercer's overall quickness in creating the chaos that disrupted Duke all day long.
3. Duke's Interior Defense
Mercer shot a feisty 55.6 percent from the field.
But, if you take out the Bears 5-of-13 shooting from distance, the Atlantic Sun champs shot a blistering 62.5 percent from inside the arc.
Bottom line: Duke's interior defense was almost nonexistent. They were a step slow or flat-footed most of the day.
Against Mercer, the Blue Devils did not give the kind of defensive effort that is required to win a March Madness game.
On the bigger scale, the Blue Devils lacked a true inside presence all season. They didn't have the size or length to match up well with many of their opponents.
Today, the issue was not physical size.
2. Rodney Hood's Disappearing Act
Before he transferred to Duke, Hood played his freshman year at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs had a decent season (21-12), but lost in their opening game in the NIT.
Today was the biggest game of Rodney Hood's college career. This was his first experience under the bright lights of the NCAA tournament.
For most of the time in Duke's loss to Mercer, Hood looked unfocused, almost confused or distracted.
Though he had six rebounds and five assists, it was his shooting that was so puzzling. Hood was 2-of-10 from the field. Both of his made field goals were from three-point shots. The talented sophomore settled for jump shots and did not drive much to the basket. He didn't shoot a single FT.
Many have assumed that Hood will enter the 2014 NBA draft. What a disappointing way to go out if this is his last game as a Blue Devil.
1. Struggles of Jabari Parker
Big players are expected to step up in big games.
Duke's Jabari Parker had a fantastic freshman season. But his performance in the Blue Devil's NCAA tournament first-round loss to Mercer was not up to his normal level of play.
Yes, he did score 14 points, but he shot 4-of-14 from the field. He did grab seven rebounds, but he was beaten several times inside by Mercer's aggressive big men.
He unfortunately led the team in turnovers (four) and played tentatively for stretches of the game because of foul trouble.
If Parker would have played an average game for him (which would be an excellent game for just about anyone else), Duke would be gearing up for a game in the Round of 32.