CRAWFORD | Duke defense dragging, Louisville offense rising as m - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Duke defense dragging, Louisville offense rising as meeting approaches

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — If you had rolled the trip odometer on the 2014-15 college basketball season back to zero at the start of conference play, you'd see some interesting things heading into Saturday's matchup between the No. 4-ranked Duke basketball team and No. 6 Louisville.

If you count only ACC games, Duke is the top offensive team in the league (76.8 points per game). That much you might expect. You wouldn't expect that the Blue Devils rank dead last in field goal percentage defense (47.9 percent) or 12th in scoring defense (76 points per game).

Nor might you expect the Cardinals, who have been offensively challenged all season, to rank fourth in the league in scoring at 73 points per game, sixth in field goal percentage (44.8) and third in free-throw percentage (72.3). U of L's defense, a lock-down unit for most of the season, has slipped a touch, giving up 65.8 points per game, while still ranking a respectable fifth in opponent field-goal percentage at 40.9 in four league games.

Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils were the crash that no one could turn away from Tuesday night, falling at home by 16 points to a Miami team that runs some of the the same high ball screen action that U of L has worked for the past four seasons.

Krzyzewski said his defense has been “non-existent” in back-to-back losses to N.C. State and Miami, and said his team's confidence has been lacking since Christmas.

“In the ACC, if you take Jah's stats out (Jahlil Okafor) we're probably shooting about 37 percent, and you can't win doing that, and the free-throws,” he said. “We're just not as confident as we have been. And I think that's part of being young.”

When you lose back-to-back games by 18 and 16, everything gets questioned, and Krzyzewski didn't have a whole bunch of answers after the game

“I just have felt since Christmas that there's something missing with our group, and I've said it,” Krzyzewski said. “ . . . When you're still winning, you don't necessarily believe it, completely. But I've felt it since Christmas, and I haven't been able to figure it out, or figure out how to change it. We're all on the same page now, after two losses, and getting our butts beat. . . . In some respects, some of that's good. None of my teams have won here without losing. You just can't lose that much. The taste of losing has to be distasteful, then you try to figure out how not to have that taste. And if you become really good, then you've got it. And that's what I'm going to try to do with this group.”

The big problem at present, Krzyzewski said, is that offensive woes are leading to lapses in other areas of the game. And that is a function of youth.

“The first thing is for all of us to accept full responsibility for what we're doing,” he said. “And we do. Coaching staff, players, we're all responsible for it. And then you try to figure it out. I don't know that answer right now. But I love my team. I believe in my team. I'm disappointed with how we've played in conference, and we're going to try to do all that we can to change that.”

Duke was still on the court when U of L coach Rick Pitino spoke to the media after his team's win over Virginia Tech on Tuesday. But don't expect his tenor to change after the Blue Devils' loss.

He has to prepare for Duke at its best. The Blue Devils haven't lost three straight games since March of 2007, and no one discounts the talent of this team, which features nine McDonald's All-Americans. 

“Duke's got a lot of great weapons that make it very difficult to guard,” Pitino said. “If you trap the post, which most teams are doing, (Okafor) is very good at finding them. They're very good off the bounce, what they run is fundamentally sound, they take advantage of their spacing, their shooting, their driving. So it'll be a very tough game for us. . . . Okafor is a big-time basketball player because he's just as good mentally as he is physically.”

Okafor has struggled a bit defensively, particularly in help situations and defending ball screens, but Pitino knows all too well that talented players can right themselves quickly.

He has to look no farther than his own backcourt, where Chris Jones went from being benched to becoming one of the top guards in the ACC.

Look at those same ACC-only stats and Jones ranks ninth in scoring at 16.8 points per game, first in assists at seven per contests, second in steals at 2.5 per game, ninth in field-goal percentage (49 percent) and eighth in free-throw percentage (80 percent).

But it's in the post that the game could be won or lost for Louisville. Someone is going to have to figure out a way to pose an obstacle for Okafor. Freshman Chinanu Onuaku is the leading candidate, but he's been inconsistent. Most likely, it'll have to be a group effort.

Krzyzewski is just worried about getting his team right. For a game that could've been his 1,000th career victory, he'll be happy with just getting one.

“I've never felt we were a great team,” he said. “I've felt we're a really good group, working our butts off and winning some big games, but we're not that team yet. But maybe through the adversity we've had and maybe will have, we'll be afforded the opportunity to become that.”

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