Duke Basketball: Keys to Bouncing Back After Consecutive Losses

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistJanuary 16, 2016

DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 16: Marshall Plumlee #40 and Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils react following a play against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 16, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. Notre Dame defeated Duke 95-91. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
Lance King/Getty Images

For the second year in a row, the Duke Blue Devils find themselves on a two-game losing streak in the middle of January. Just like last season, it began with a loss on the road (Wednesday at Clemson) and was followed by a rare home defeat (against Notre Dame on Saturday).

The Blue Devils ended up winning 21 of their next 23 games en route to the national title. If the defending champions are going to have a chance to repeat, they'll need to get back on track quickly since the schedule doesn't get any easier.

So, how does that happen? Here are some keys for Duke (14-4, 3-2 ACC) to rebound from consecutive losses and keep the 2015-16 season from falling apart.

Grab the ball

Duke has been outrebounded seven times this season, five of those since senior forward Amile Jefferson suffered a foot injury. With him out of the mix, the Blue Devils have gone with three guards and moved wing Brandon Ingram to the 4, next to center Marshall Plumlee.

Jefferson was the top rebounder before getting hurt, averaging 10.3 per game. Ingram and Plumlee are doing their best to hold their own, but everyone on the team needs to be able to contribute on the boards.

"Just grab the ball," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said, per Laura Keeley of the News & Observer.

Notre Dame had 16 offensive rebounds on Saturday, and in the past two games Duke has been outgained 26-15 in offensive boards.

Create transition opportunities

Duke is one of the best offensive teams in the country, able to hit shots from all over the court, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't look to get easy baskets whenever possible. But that requires forcing the issue and getting into fast-break situations, which hasn't been happening lately.

Only five of the Blue Devils' 91 points on Saturday were on the fast break, after going scoreless in that area in Wednesday's loss to Clemson.

Before Saturday, Duke ranked 261st out of 351 Division I teams in the percentage of its shots (19.2) that come in transition, per Hoop-Math.com.

A way to help in this area would be to force more turnovers, preferably of the live-ball variety. Duke had only three steals and forced a season-low six turnovers against Notre Dame, and before the game it had a steal percentage of 9.7 percent (per Sports-Reference.com).


Fight the fatigue

Duke moved freshman guard Luke Kennard into the starting lineup on Saturday, and he responded with a career-high 30 points. He also played 37 minutes, most of any game in college, and the five starters logged 184 of the 200 total minutes.

That comes a game after the starters played 166 minutes, with Kennard adding another 30.

The minutes are starting to pile up for Duke, and it's translating into sluggish second halves. During the two-game losing streak Duke has averaged 42.5 points and shot 56.4 percent in the first half and scored 34.5 points on 44.2 percent shooting in the second half. The three-point rate has also dipped, from 51.9 percent to 40.9 percent.

Derryck Thornton only played 14 minutes on Saturday, a career low. That just adds to the fatigue issues for the starters if he's not able to contribute more.

It's obvious that Krzyzewski doesn't trust backup post players Chase Jeter, Sean Obi and Antonio Vrankovic, having played that trio less than 25 total minutes in five ACC games. But for the sake of saving his starters' legs, he has to find a way to sneak them in for a few minutes here and there.


Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.