Duke’s skid continues in 80-69 loss at No. 15 Miami

(AP Photo/Ben McKeown, File)
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Shelden McClellan went for 21 points and ‘Good Angel’ Rodriguez showed up, finishing with 13 points, ten assists and five boards, as No. 15 Miami knocked off No. 24 Duke, 80-69, in Coral Gables on Monday night.

The Canes have now won three straight after losing those back-to-back roadies to Clemson and Virginia and remain just two games behind No. 2 North Carolina in the ACC standings.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: When Rodriguez plays the way that he did tonight, he makes Miami a very, very dangerous team. They have a myriad of players that can create off the bounce — I haven’t even mentioned Davon Reed or Ja’Quan Newton yet — and they have enough size and athleticism in the paint to matchup with just about anyone they’ll run into.

So this win really shouldn’t be much of a surprise.

Because once you get past the name on the jersey, you’ll realize that this Duke team is simply not all that good right now.

This loss drops Duke to 4-4 in the ACC, their worst start in league play since the 1995-96 season. The Blue Devils finished 18-13 overall that year and just 8-8 in the ACC. It was the year after Mike Krzyzewski took a leave of absence with a back injury and Duke finished 13-18 and just 2-14 in the conference. That’s where we are with this group right now (although that stat should also shine a line on just how good Coach K has been in the last 30 years at Duke).

I’m not ready to jump off the Duke bandwagon just yet, not until we see what this group looks like with Amile Jefferson back on the floor.

But as of this very moment, I’m not convinced that Duke is a tournament team. Their best wins are over Indiana, VCU and Georgetown, none of which are great but all of which look much better now than they did a month ago. That would be enough to get them into the at-large field as of today — our latest bracketology had Duke slotted as a No. 7 seed — but what if Amile Jefferson doesn’t return as the player that he was when he got hurt?

Where is Duke going to get good wins from?

They’ll have the chances, as they get Louisville twice, North Carolina twice, Virginia at home and the ACC tournament to stock up on good wins. But this team is a total and complete trainwreck on the defensive side of the ball. We saw against Syracuse the issues they have on the defensive glass, when they gave up 26 offensive rebounds. Miami “only” grabbed 34.5 percent of the available offensive boards, a number that is simultaneously mediocre at best and very good for this iteration of the Blue Devils.

But that’s not their only problem. Duke played zone on just about every possession for the first 30 minutes of this game, and the result was a 55-41 deficit (it would have been at least 20 points if Miami didn’t mess up four alley-oops) before they finally switched back to man. That zone, particularly in the second half, was terrible, just like it was in the final minutes against Clemson.

The issue is that it’s a defense that Duke has to play.

It conserves energy and fouls for a team with one usable perimeter sub and, with all due respect to Chase Jeter, no one in the front court capable of providing minutes off the bench. It’s also necessary against a team like Miami, who has a myriad of penetrating guards that love to operate in high ball-screens. If you remember, it was Miami’s evisceration of Duke’s man-to-man defense in their win at Cameron last season that forced the Blue Devils into using a zone in the first place.

Prior to Monday, the Blue Devils were ranked 133rd in defensive efficiency on KenPom. Just just gave up 80 points on roughly 63 possessions to Miami.

We’re getting to a point where Jefferson alone may not actually be an answer.