Duke vs. St. John's Basketball: Blue Devils Headed Downhill or Just Speed Bump?
Let's just get this out of the way—the St. John's Red Storm dismantled Duke in convincing fashion on Sunday afternoon.
The Blue Devils didn't play anywhere near their billing in the first half and went into the second with a 21-point deficit. In a rowdy stadium filled with St. John's fans, the game was over at halftime.
Of course, the fans weren't the ones putting the ball in the basket. Steve Lavin's squad did their part, shooting the lights out of Madison Square Garden and holding the Blue Devils to one of their worst shooting performances in recent memory.
Cue the million tweets about how Duke doesn't have a chance to win it all without Kyrie Irving.
The Blue Devils aren't unbeatable (that's been obvious for a while now), but the analysts and experts who will inevitably claim that this loss signifies the demise of Duke's season might be jumping the gun a bit.
While the Red Storm clearly exposed some Duke weaknesses that need to be rectified in the near future, there are several reasons why fans of college basketball shouldn't read too much into this loss.
It's a Trap!
Never heard of a "trap game?" If you watched the Duke-St. John's game Sunday, you saw a great example of one.
Sometimes a team goes into a game against a lesser opponent with circumstances that make what should be a routine win an uphill battle from the opening tip.
The Red Storm's last game prior to Duke was on Tuesday of last week, giving them four full days to rest and prepare for the Blue Devils with no travel.
Duke, on the other hand, played Boston College on Thursday. It had one day to prepare for St. John's before traveling to New York. That's not a lot of time to rest, especially when Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith play virtually every minute of every game.
Advantage St. John's.
The Red Storm came into this game at the tail end of a brutal stretch against ranked opponents (fresh off a loss to Georgetown) with conference bottom-feeder Rutgers on the schedule after Duke. The Blue Devils have an important conference road game against almost-rival Maryland on Wednesday.
Guess which team was more likely to get caught looking ahead. Ding, Ding, Ding!
A win against St. John's wasn't going to do anything for Duke except add another number to the left side of the wins/losses column. For St. John's, Duke was a meal ticket that could put it on the right side of the bubble depending on how the rest of its season shakes out.
The Good Die Young
People seem to forget just how young this Duke team is, often failing to look past senior stars Smith and Singler.
Behind those two, the only other upperclassman in the rotation is junior reserve Miles Plumlee.
The Blue Devils rely heavily on four sophomores in Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee.
Plumlee and Dawkins averaged double figures in minutes on last year's championship squad, but both played very limited support roles as Duke relied heavily on its experienced upperclassmen.
Curry redshirted last season after transferring from Liberty, only playing in practices last year.
Kelly has become a regular starter for Duke this season, but he barely played as a freshman—he didn't log more than eight minutes in a game from the start of January through the NCAA tournament.
Behind those four, the Blue Devils only get younger with Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston logging decent minutes while Irving (another freshman) sits.
Duke's youth is talented. All four of Duke's sophomores have had 20-point games this season. But even young talent struggles, especially on the road.
Everyone loves to point out how Duke lives and dies by the three, and there's certainly truth to that.
Duke shoots a lot of threes, sure. If I coached a team that shot 40 percent on the season from behind the arc, I'd probably tell them to shoot a lot of threes too (mainly because they are worth more points than other shots).
Despite being one of the best shooting teams in the nation, the Blue Devils couldn't have shot worse on Sunday—they only made one of their first 21 three-point attempts and finished shooting less than 20 percent on the day.
You know who else would lose if they only hit one out of their first 21 threes? Pretty much every team in the nation.
Even good shooting teams are going to have off days, but Duke's performance on Sunday was beyond bad. The Blue Devils won't shoot that poorly for the rest of the season.
Where To Go from Here
Duke has been here before—this game was an eerie case of déjà vu.
Last season, Duke played Georgetown (another Big East team) in a technically-neutral-but-not-really-neutral arena. The result was exactly the same, almost as if this game was intended to be a scripted remake of last year's performance. The dates were even the same, and both Georgetown and St. John's scored the same number of points (46) in the first half.
Duke went on to win 18 of its next 19 games, on its way to winning the school's fourth national title.
If the Blue Devils hope to finish as strong as last season, there will certainly need to be adjustments.
In its last several games, someone other than Smith and Singler has stepped up and provided Duke with a third scoring option. That didn't happen on Sunday, and the Blue Devils will struggle to put teams away with only two scoring threats.
Defensively, Duke showed some major breakdowns against St. John's. Their gambles didn't pay off, and the Red Storm's guards penetrated often and produced easy baskets in the paint. Duke's press was also highly ineffective.
Adjustment happens to be something Mike Krzyzewski knows a lot about, and that's a good thing for Duke because it is needed.
Even after this loss, the Blue Devils are still in the top tier of teams in the nation. Let's be honest, none of the nation's top teams have looked invincible of late (save for maybe Texas).
There's work to be done, for sure, but don't write Duke off just yet.
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