I have watched many Duke basketball games through many seasons now, and one thing remains very clear to me—figuring out the Blue Devils is nearly as impossible as trying to determine the number of facial expressions Jon Scheyer has.
They are many and at times quite perplexing.
While Duke has had more success than failure during my time, occasional anomalies pop up to create what I call the Duke Conundrum.
Basically, it states that just when you think you've figured out the Blue Devils, they end up leaving you dazed and confused.
This isn't something recent in what many feel is a "down period" for the program. I've noticed this since I began watching Duke games in the late 1980s.
Duke plays very well, then puts up a terrible performance. It happened again on Wednesday night against a solid Wisconsin team that came to play, and did so beautifully.
What I have managed to figure out is that the Blue Devils typically have games like that every year. I also know that most of their games will end in one of six results.
The Positive Blowout - As the name suggests, Duke drops the opponent quickly and the game is never in doubt. Reserved for early cupcakes, or when they catch someone of greater stature napping.
The Deceptive Blowout A - Duke plays a fairly tight game but ends it on a big run and wins by at least 15 points and makes a closer game look one-sided. These happen with great frequency.
The Deceptive Blowout B - Duke takes a big lead only to watch it whittle away, but still maintains a comfortable lead to the point where it is considered a relatively easy victory. The most recent example was the UConn game.
The Nail-Biter - As the name suggests, it is a tight game the entire way and comes down to the last few possessions and could go either way. Think Kentucky circa 1992.
The Hump Game - Probably my least favorite. Duke plays tight with an opponent, but clearly is being outplayed. The Devils may be down by double digits, manage to get the score down to where you just think they can make the comeback, but never do. That pretty much sums up Wednesday night's loss at Wisconsin.
The Negative Blowout - These are rare but not unheard of. Duke gets its butts handed to it from the opening tip. Think UNLV in 1990, or Clemson and Villanova last season.
Now there may be exceptions to these, but generally that is how most Duke games shake out.
Generally, though, you can expect the Blue Devils to play hard, not quit, and shoot three pointers whether they are falling or not.
Typically Duke plays good defense, but that wasn't the case against Wisconsin.
Some of the most frustrating and confusing characteristics of Duke include its use of "stall ball." In Deceptive Blowout B-games Duke will be aggressive and take a good lead, only to start playing stall ball, or the modern shot-clock version of four corners. With this, the Devils end up watching their lead melt away.
They did it against UConn and in countless other games. I see the point in it. I just never have cared for Mike Krzyzewski's use of it. One, it kills your momentum, and two, it raises my blood pressure.
When Duke's defense just isn't working, like it wasn't against Wisconsin, it would be nice to see some adjustments. It didn't appear from my vantage point that the team made any, and I feel Krzyzewski's insistence on playing man-to-man defense could lead to more games just like Wednesday night's.
It was a frustrating game to watch as a Duke fan, but indicative of the Hump Game.
The Blue Devils, who needed to get Kyle Singler out of his recent funk, did just that, but managed to leave everyone else's game back in Durham—or perhaps New York, still celebrating the NIT Tip-Off Championship.
Duke always plays at least one game a year in which I'm left with an emotion best expressed in my own mother's words: "I love you, but I don't like you very much right now."
That first game came against Wisconsin. But, like a mother, I will continue to watch and love despite the inevitability of more of those games to come.
Leading into the Wisconsin game, Duke was arguably the hottest team in America. I'm sure many will jump off the bandwagon after the defeat. But fans should temper their emotional lows from the loss to Wisconson—not a bad team by the way—as they should after the highs from the win over UConn.
So before you go trying to unwrap the Conundrum of Duke just to find that the Blue Devils really are a mystery encased in a riddle, just remember, long-time fans are still trying to figure it out, and chances are if they haven't, you won't either.