No. 20 Duke loses third straight after falling to Syracuse

(AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

For the first time since 1968, a ranked Duke team has lost three consecutive games to an unranked team, as the No. 20 Blue Devils fell at home to Syracuse 64-62.

And frankly, the Blue Devils should be ecstatic the game was that close.

Chew on this, for a second: Duke had two shots to take the lead in the final minute despite the fact that they shot 10-for-37 from three on a night where more than 60 percent of their field goal attempts were from beyond the arc while simultaneously allowing the Orange to shoot 11-for-23 from three and grab 26 offensive rebounds.

You read that right.

26 offensive rebounds.

And they still had a chance to beat the Orange.

That’s why I’m not jumping off of the Blue Devil bandwagon just yet. The issues that Duke has right now — front court depth and defensive rebounding — will get answered when (if?) Amile Jefferson returns from his broken foot and gets back to 100 percent. He’s by far their most versatile front court defender, he gives them balance offensively and he was averaging 9.3 boards when he went down with the injury. Play him alongside Marshall Plumlee and Ingram and all of a sudden Duke’s front court has some size.

There are two problems with that theory:

  1. It doesn’t solve the issue of Duke’s lacking perimeter defense. Jefferson is world’s better in defending ball-screens actions than Plumlee is but it’s not like Duke’s guards are known for their ability to prevent dribble penetration. Mike Krzyzewski can do a good job of masking those problems with the switching man-to-man that he plays, but this group is never going to be great defensively.
  2. It operates under the assumption that Jefferson is going to come back and be the player that he was before he went out. He’s now missed four weeks of action, which is plenty of time for a player to lose their legs, lose their timing and lose their rhythm.

And that’s to say nothing of the idea that maybe, just maybe, the Blue Devils defense is too far gone at this point, that even with Jefferson they aren’t going to be stout enough on that end of the floor, they aren’t going to be strong enough on the glass, to allow their offense to win them games.

But until we’re certain about Jefferson — his health and his impact — I’m not ready to write off these Blue Devils yet.

As far as the Orange are concerned, they’ve now won three games games in the ACC and are 9-2 in games that Jim Boeheim has not been suspended for. They’ve got a big hole to dig themselves out of in regards to earning an NCAA tournament berth, but, at 13-7, their only killer loss is to St. John’s and they do have three wins against KenPom’s top 50. They’ve now won back-to-back road games in league play as well.

I like the make-up of this team, particularly when they have Tyler Lydon at the five, but that hinges entirely on whether or not they are making their threes. Without a severe lack of depth and a frustrating inconsistency shooting the ball from the perimeter, it’s hard to imagine this group putting together a run to an at-large bid.