“You have to go through the fire to find out where you are as a team,” said Cuonzo Martin, “You have to hit that tough spot, that rough patch, where you’ve lost a couple of games. Then you see how do guys respond, who’s pointing fingers, who’s not defending. You see who’s still leading the team saying, ‘let’s stick together.’”
Hopefully Duke won’t need to find out where they are as a team by losing, but Martin has a point. A team will learn more about themselves in a loss than in a win.
Whenever a team wins it is easy to speculate where they could have lost, whereas in an actual loss, a team will know what they need to work on. As in the old saying ‘we learn from our mistakes.’
However, in college basketball every game is precious. Martin is in his first year at Tennessee—a program that is considered to be in a rebuilding year with an untested team. Losses can be expected.
For an established team there are other rough patches that can be used as teaching moments.
For Duke it will be the Maui Invitational tournament (MIT), which includes heavyweights such as Georgetown, Kansas, Michigan, Memphis and Tennessee.
"To play against Tennessee tomorrow and whoever we play after that will be a really good experience," Krzyzewski told ESPN. "We have a younger team and we're still learning about ourselves and this tournament hopefully will help us in our progress to have a really good team."
At the moment Duke is averaging about 13 assists and 15 turnovers a game. That’s not a good sign. Really good teams always have the deficit going the other way.Tennessee—Duke’s first Maui Opponent—is not the same team they were under Bruce Pearle, but they are just as athletic as Michigan State. A team Duke struggled to beat to make Mike Krzyzewski the winningest coach in division one men’s basketball.
Coach K is 12-0 in the Maui tournament, but past wins are nothing to go by. Duke as the highest ranked team in the field, is considered the team to beat.
With Tennessee, Duke will have trouble keeping a lid on sophomore point guard Trae Golden, who currently averages 23 points and 10 assists in Tennessee’s first two games. The 6’1" guard also made 46 percent of his three point field goals—the Volunteers as a team made 49 percent.
They only played Louisiana-Monroe and UNC Greensboro, but this should be a great test for Duke’s perimeter defense. Tyler Thornton, Duke’s best on ball defender, may see some huge playing time.
As Bill Self said, “Games in November are important, but they pale in comparison to games in January and February.”
However this Duke relies on players with little leadership experience. Junior Seth Curry is the leading returning scorer, with a mere nine points per game. Each player has been asked to take on new roles from the previous season.
The Maui Tournament should get them battle tested for conference play in January.