At what point do we accept that this Duke team just might not be that great?
When it takes everything you have to beat Pitt at home, it's time to be honest
Everyone keeps waiting for the Duke Blue Devils to finally, as a team, become as good as the sum of their almost unfairly talented parts. But it's just not happening.
On Saturday, the team that has four, maybe five potential first-round NBA picks, a team that was everyone's runaway preseason favorite to win the national title, a team that welcomed back to the sideline the best coach in college basketball history, struggled to beat the worst team in the ACC. At home.
Duke 72, Pitt 64.
Sometimes the final score doesn't accurate reflect what happened -- or, in Duke's case, what is happening. This one does. At this point, Duke, 6-4 in the ACC and in many ways lucky to even have that record, is a team that can lose to anyone. To be fair, it can, in theory, beat anyone, too. Any team with this kind of talent has the potential to explode at any moment. And that's what makes them dangerous come March. It's not like anyone will want to play them.
But nobody will be scared of them either.
If you forget the name on the front of the jersey, forget the hype and expectations and all that, the simple truth of the matter is that this is a team that has to scrap every night. They didn't even play all that poorly against Pitt. They shot just under 40 percent (11 for 28) from three. Four guys scored in double digits, led by Grayson Allen's 23. And Pitt made just two 3-pointers. Typically, when Duke outscores the last-place team 33-6 from the 3-point line, that game is going to be a blowout, yet Pitt led with less than nine minutes to play.
That's the reality of it. This was a pretty evenly matched game, crazy as that sounds. Yes, Duke eventually pulled away, sort of, proving itself to be a little bit better than the last-place team. But Pitt matched up fine -- just as Wake Forest did last Saturday before Duke pulled a crazy run out of its hat in the final two minutes to, again, prove itself a little bit better than a relatively irrelevant team.
And that feels just about right. These don't feel like anomalies anymore. This Duke team just isn't that good. Not yet. Maybe not ever.
Like, what is the deal with Harry Giles? I know the guy had a bunch of knee surgeries, and if that's really what's holding him back, I feel for him. But this was a lot of people's surefire bet to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft before he even came out of high school. He played seven minutes against Pitt. He scored five points, his season average, and grabbed zero rebounds. He's playing less than 13 minutes a game for the year.
You have to wonder whether Giles would even be part of a postseason rotation at this point, and that's a problem not just for Giles personally and his NBA stock, but for Duke's overall depth. Coach K basically only went six deep on Saturday, and the sixth player, Matt Jones, scored one point. Try winning in March with six players that, frankly, don't even play all that well together.
There's still time to figure all this out, of course. But not that much time. Duke gets North Carolina on Thursday, and after that they still have dates at Virginia, vs. the Wake Forest team that already nearly beat them, at red-hot Syracuse, vs. Florida State and at North Carolina to close the year. Not exactly a bunch of warm-up games.
And March is coming.
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