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Tighter rotations mean less margin for error for Blue Devils

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Well, what did we learn from Duke’s surprising loss at Clemson?

Perhaps the most revealing information was Duke’s 10-man rotation has been more than “coachspeak” from Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The irony is Coach K has been doubted he will stick 10 rather than his traditional seven- or eight-man rotations.

But once he was limited to eight, it wasn’t enough Tuesday at Clemson. With Wendell Moore and Joey Baker out with injuries, Duke fell to the Tigers 79-72 at Littlejohn Coliseum.

“One of the reasons we’ve been good is that we had depth, but we had two kids out on the perimeter,” Krzyzewski told the media after the game. “I saw it a little bit in our last game, and tonight you definitely saw we are not as good without that depth.”

Only a demanding coach would see something lacking in Duke’s 31-point victory, 90-59 over Wake Forest on Saturday night, but that’s why Coach K is in his 40th season and is the record-holder for most NCAA Division I basketball victories.

A look back at what Krzyzewski said following the Wake Forest rout was revealing. He was again asked with a tone of skepticism if he planned to stick to a 10-man rotation.

“We’re a different team than we have been,” Coach K said. “Why would we be a team that we’re not? In other words, why would we do something that was successful in the past that wouldn’t be for this group?”

He continued his reply with a thought that portended the Clemson loss more than could have been imagined.

“We’ve got to keep developing our team. As long as people are staying healthy we’re going to play our guys.”

Most nights eight is enough, but freshman forward Matthew Hurt and junior guard Alex O’Connell experienced off nights. Hurt played only 15 minutes, scoring two points. O’Connell was 2 of 6 and 0 of 2 from 3-point range with four points in 12 minutes.

Now factor in Cassius Stanley, the team’s third leading scorer, playing less aggressively through foul trouble.

Duke freshman center Vernon Carey’s inside game was impacted without perimeter support. Carey finished with 20 points and seven rebounds, but when he was double-teamed Duke lacked typical rhythm while kicking the ball out. Although Carey hit 8 of 14 from the floor shooting in heavy traffic, he missed a couple easy ones and was only 4 of 9 from the free-throw line.

He missed all five second-half free throws, meaning those were scoreless possessions.

Also consider that if senior forward Jack White hadn’t played well in his extended playing time, the game might have been decided earlier than the final minute. White, who averages 19.3 minutes, played 28 and finished with nine points, including 2 of 3 from 3-point range.

Clemson (9-7, 3-3 ACC) is a middling ACC team, but the Tigers showed the Blue Devils can’t necessarily turn it on and off with only eight men.


The ACC is running surprisingly light on marquee games with Virginia, North Carolina and Syracuse struggling. Only three ACC teams were ranked in the Top 25 this week: No. 3 Duke (15-2, 5-1), No. 9 Florida State (15-2, 5-1) and No. 11 Louisville (14-3, 5-1).

Although the ACC expanded its conference schedule from 18 to 20 games this season, that was about pumping up the ACC Network, not more home-and-home games.

The Blue Devils face both Louisville and Florida State only once this year. Louisville visits Duke at 6 p.m. Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Florida State matchup on Feb. 10 also is a Duke home game.

Tom Shanahan is a freelance writer based in Cary and author of “Raye of Light,” a book featuring Fayetteville’s Jimmy Raye as a pioneering black quarterback for College Football Hall of Fame coach Duffy Daugherty on Michigan State’s Underground Railroad football teams of the 1960s.