CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- After Saturday's loss, Duke star freshman Marvin Bagley III had his head buried in his hands in disbelief. On the opposite side of the locker room, senior Grayson Allen was explaining how his message to his young teammates -- about the chances that Duke could lose to anyone -- would no longer ring hollow.
In tune with his veteran captain, Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski also wasn’t shocked following the team’s 89-84 loss to a Boston College team that has won a grand total of six ACC games in the past three seasons.
“We’ve played 12 games, and we’re young,” Krzyzewski said. “We’re talented; we’re not as deep. We’re big. That’s a different dynamic and how you have to play defense.”
Welcome to the world of the one-and-done, Coach K.
It’s a world in which there is no shortage of ups and downs. There was a win over Michigan State in Chicago; lackluster starts in Portland followed by dominant second-half runs against Portland State, Florida and Texas; and yet another come-from-behind victory at Indiana.
But just ask Kentucky coach John Calipari about the frustration of dealing with yearly turnover. It’s not easy. He has had arguably the most talent every season since he has been in Lexington and has just one banner hanging at Rupp Arena. Krzyzewski has had his share of one-and-dones, but nothing quite like this season, when he’s starting four freshmen who all have strong and realistic opportunities to leave college hoops after just one season.
The 6-foot-11 Bagley has been arguably the most dominant player in college basketball this season, but he was held in check in the second half -- taking just four shots, with three of them coming beyond the 3-point arc. The Duke defense was carved up by a Boston College team to the tune of 48 first-half points, 89 by the time the buzzer sounded and the students stormed the court.
“We’re not a good defensive team,” Krzyzewski added.
This Duke team is ultratalented and appears to have improved chemistry from the team a year ago that seemed to have a clear divide between the freshmen and the rest of the group. But anyone who thought the Blue Devils were going to run the table was out of their minds, and Saturday afternoon was clear evidence.
That wasn't going to happen with Allen as the lone player on the team who played any sort of meaningful minutes in a college game before this season.
They couldn’t even get through the ACC opener unscathed.
If anyone can figure out how to avoid these losses going forward, it’ll be Krzyzewski, who has more wins than anyone else in Division I history. But there will be more bumps along the way for a team that is loaded with inexperience, one that has gone the opposite direction of most successful teams in both college and the NBA. Small ball has been all the rage, but Krzyzewski is trying to hang a banner with personnel that fits the game of a decade ago.
“It’s not just that he’s gone big,” said one NBA executive who has seen Duke play multiple times this season. “It’s that he’s got a bunch of kids that he’s not used to dealing with, guys that aren’t invested as much as usual. It’s a reality check for him.”
Nobody is going to cross Duke off the list of teams that can cut down the nets in San Antonio in April. But after multiple close calls and the latest performance, one in which Duke allowed BC to shoot 15-of-26 from beyond the arc, it’s safe to say that the Blue Devils are hardly a lock to be a Final Four team.
BC has one of the best backcourts in the ACC, and maybe the country. Sophomore Ky Bowman went for 30 points and also grabbed 10 rebounds. Junior Jerome Robinson, who also hails from North Carolina, made all five of his 3-point attempts and finished with 24 points. Former BYU guard Jordan Chatman was on fire in the first half, scoring 15 points and making 4 of 6 shots from deep.
But this Eagles team, which just lost its best frontcourt player, Deontae Hawkins, for the season, somehow found a way to outrebound a group that often goes 6-11, 6-10 and 6-9 along the front line.
“We put up 87 points, and I don’t think we played well on offense at all,” Allen said. “We can’t give up 80. It’s got to be a commitment on the defensive end. ... Something we’ve got to figure out.”
“It was the first conference game for a lot of these guys,” he added. “Now they know what it’s like. It’s no joke. When we show up like we did and don’t play defense, that’s what’s going to happen. We’re going to get beat.”
There will be times when Duke will look like the No. 1 team in the nation, and there will be other moments in which the Blue Devils will appear vulnerable against subpar competition.
“You can’t sleep on anybody,” Robinson said.
That’s the life of one-and-dones.
At 70 years old, Coach K is just going to have to learn to be patient.