Heading into Sunday’s game against Vermont, Duke was heavily favored as the No. 6 ranked team in the country. After all, they had a 105-game home winning streak against non-conference opponents. While Vermont is a solid mid-major program, they’re the type of team who won’t be better than a 14-seed come tournament time.
Imagine the shock among Duke fans, then, when the Catamounts very nearly pulled off what would have been a staggering upset. If not for some missed free throws and poor clock awareness that kept them from getting off a final shot, Vermont very easily could have left Cameron Indoor with a massive victory.
In the first half, the Blue Devils built up a nine-point lead thanks to a big effort from Rodney Hood, but weren’t getting much from anyone else offensively. Jabari Parker was limited to just seven points before halftime, and the 43 points scored by Vermont were the second most of any team against Duke this season, trailing only Kansas. That is a major concern, because if the Blue Devils are having this much trouble stopping Vermont, what will they do when they face teams like Syracuse and, after their victory over Louisville today, North Carolina?
It was not just poor defense in allowing open shots, either. Yes, Vermont made the majority of their shots (shooting an amazing 64.8 percent from the field for the game) thanks to so many coming uncontested but even when they were off the mark, they got an astonishing number of offensive rebounds against the much bigger, more athletic Blue Devils. Credit, of course, has to go to Vermont, who put on a display of outstanding offensive execution and simply outworked Duke to many of those offensive boards, but there’s really not much excuse for Duke to be exploited so badly on the defensive end, particularly at home.
Still, Parker came up huge in the second half to help will his team to the victory. He scored 19 after halftime, finishing with 26, and was one of the only effective players on the glass for Duke with nine rebounds. Quinn Cook, who has been terribly inconsistent this year, came up huge down the stretch as well, including sticking a big three-pointer late in the game.
At the same time, while it was a very well played game offensively, it simply has to be disheartening for Mike Krzyzewski to watch his team fail time and again to stop a team that really had no business staying within 15-20 points. Vermont will likely be a tournament team, but they aren’t the type of squad that should be challenging an elite squad like Duke.
Of course, if Duke can’t get its defense and rebounding turned around they may not wind up being quite as elite as we all thought they would be. It doesn’t matter how good you are on offense if you can’t stop the other team from scoring.