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Duke soul-searching after second straight loss

DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski took the rare move of abandoning his jacket about midway through the second half with Miami holding a four-point lead.

He knew it was serious then.

He’s going to have to roll up his sleeves now.

Miami’s 90-74 win on Tuesday night not only snapped the fourth-ranked Blue Devils’ nation-leading 41-game win streak in Cameron Indoor Stadium, but it exposed a truth Krzyzewski said he has known for about a month.

“I just have felt since Christmas that there’s something missing with our group and I’ve said it,” Krzyzewski said. “I’ve said it to the press, I’ve said it to my team. When you’re still winning you don’t necessarily believe it completely.”

Believe it now.

Duke made things look easy when it breezed through nonconference play winning each game by double digits. And as No. 1 Kentucky recently needed overtime to beat both Mississippi and Texas A&M, there was even talk that the Blue Devils would rightfully start siphoning off first-place votes in the national polls.

Then NC State happened on Sunday.

And with the Blue Devils still stunned, Miami happened on Tuesday.

These were not merely upsets where NC State and Miami happened to get hot or get lucky at the buzzer. These were bona-fide beatdowns that are generally foreign territory for Duke.

It was the first time the Blue Devils have suffered back-to-back losses in the regular season since falling to North Carolina and Boston College in February 2009.

“I’m not totally surprised with us losing, not tonight, I’m just saying losing because I never felt we were a great team,” Krzyzewski said. “I felt we were really a good group of kids working our butts off, winning some big games and stuff like that. But we’re not that team yet.”

Maybe losing these games will be like Duke’s Eastern Kentucky. The Colonels went into Miami and beat the then-18th ranked Canes 72-44 last month.

Miami guard Angel Rodriguez said looking back it was a humbling experience.

“With so many new guys on the team it can be hard to handle success, and early in the season we had a lot of success,” Rodriguez said. “We made the top 15. Ever since then, the intensity wasn’t there on defense, the attention to detail wasn’t there.”

Sounds kind of like the Blue Devils. A lot of new faces with three freshmen in the starting lineup. They handled all of their early challenges with ease and lately, even in their win over Wake Forest, their defensive efforts have been suspect.

They allowed the Canes to shoot 66 percent from the floor in the second half and 51 percent for the game.

“Our defense has been non-existent for two games,” Krzyzewski said.

The Blue Devils have to take a hard look at their defensive efforts. They’re much better in that area than they were last season, but last season was at a historic level of awful. According to KenPom.com Duke ranked 116th last season in adjusted defense, which was its lowest since the site began ranking in 2002.

The first 10 years of KenPom.com, the Blue Devils ranked in the top 25 of adjusted defense all but one season -- and they were 36th in 2009. The past four seasons, their best rank has been 31st.

“We had a hard time keeping their guards out of the paint, that’s on us,” Duke guard/forward Rasheed Sulaimon said. “We have to figure out what we’re doing and what we’re not doing that’s causing these past two losses.”

And the road doesn’t get any easier. The Blue Devils travel to No. 6 Louisville on Saturday and face Pittsburgh at home next Monday before going on a three-game road swing to St. John’s, No. 12 Notre Dame and No. 2 Virginia.

“We’re all on the same page now after two losses and after getting our butt beat,” Krzyzewski said. “The taste of losing has to be distasteful and you try to figure out how not to have that taste. If you become really good then you’ve got it, and that’s what I’m going to try to do with this group. We’ll see how successful we’ll be.”