What's wrong with Duke men's basketball?  Can Jon Scheyer fix it before the NCAA tournament?

What’s wrong with Duke men’s basketball? Can Jon Scheyer fix it before the NCAA tournament?

As Kyle Filipowski took an unobstructed but unintentional blow to the throat on Monday night, Duke men’s basketball was absorbing another heavy blow to its season.

No, the 78-75 loss to Virginia Tech wasn’t a knockout, even if it felt like it. Nor has the Blue Devils’ postseason trajectory changed. Not even a little bit. Despite another road loss, this time to an ACC foe that began the week on a seven-game losing streak with a conference win: an 80-72 win over UNC on Dec. 4: Duke (14 -6, 4-4 ACC) only fell from No. 29 to 31 on NET, and on ESPN’s Bracketology, he held on as a firm fifth seed for the NCAA Tournament.

But Monday’s loss continued to expose some hard truths about Jon Scheyer’s first team, and with the ACC Tournament and March Madness fast approaching, the 35-year-old rookie coach is running out of time.

There are some things that Scheyer can’t control, for example, injuries.

Duke started the season without a healthy Dariq Whitehead and Dereck Lively II. In late November, junior captain Jeremy Roach suffered a toe injury that kept him out for three games in January. Against Virginia Tech, the Blue Devils may have lost Whitehead for good.

After a slow start, the 6-foot-7, 220-pound forward had become one of the team’s most consistent offensive threats, scoring at least 10 points in six of the last eight games. He came out of Monday’s game with 10 points and a lower leg injury that prompted his teammates to help carry him into the team locker room. Whitehead returned to the court on crutches. His status for Saturday’s game in Atlanta against Georgia Tech remains in doubt.

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Regardless of the injury, Duke faltered in his first dry run of the NCAA Tournament. The Blue Devils had just two days to prepare for the trip to Blacksburg following a 68-66 win against No. 17 Miami. They came out pounding against the Hokies, scoring the game’s first seven points, but on-ball turnovers and an inability to close out halves cost them again.

Duke went 3-for-11 in the last 6:39 of the first half and saw a close game lob to a 45-38 halftime deficit. With the score tied at 67 after Ryan Young’s layup with 7:07 remaining in the second half, the Blue Devils hit just two of their last 10 shots. It was a similar story in a loss to Clemson, and even worse against NC State, where Duke missed its first 13 shots and trailed 18-0.

In truth, this is not a strong shooting team. According to KenPom, Duke’s offense ranks 267ththe in 3-point percentage and hit less than 50% of his 2s.

That won’t be enough, even as Filipowski, a walking double-double, continues to emerge as the leading ACC freshman of the year contender. He finished with 29 points and 10 rebounds against the Hokies. Tyrese Proctor and Whitehead were the only other two in double figures with 10 points each.

The accidental hit he took from Virginia Tech’s MJ Collins while Collins was celebrating his eventual game-winning jumper with 13.6 seconds left? Yes, he made her throw up in the meeting that followed. It did not matter. He wasn’t going anywhere.

Kyle Filipowski clutches his neck during Tuesday’s loss to Virginia Tech.

“Yeah, he just elbowed me right in the Adam’s apple and I couldn’t breathe for a minute,” Filipowski said after the game. “So, I just needed to throw up and I was fine.”

It’s that toughness that inspires confidence in what this team could be: a defensive-minded, offensive-minded, rebounding giant who ranks second nationally in average height with the ability to run the floor and score quickly in groups.

It wouldn’t hurt for Scheyer to show his own toughness. What was missing from the Filipowski incident (NCAA rules state he should have been called flagrant 1) was the excitement and outrage synonymous with the Coach K era at Duke. Scheyer has chosen to remain mostly cool on the bench this season, particularly with the refs.

“It’s about navigating the game, it’s not about panicking,” Scheyer said earlier this month after Duke’s embarrassing 84-60 loss to NC State in Raleigh. “It’s about winning the next possession and the next. That’s where my mind goes.”

But the composure that Scheyer has tried to implement seems to have been lost when his team leaves the confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke is 10-0 at home, 3-2 in neutral-site games and 1-4, nearly 0-5, in road games this season.

Scheyer should ask for more from his team: more consistent shooting from Tyrese Proctor and Jacob Grandison and more production from Lively, who played 14 minutes and made three shots against Virginia Tech. If Whitehead leaves for an extended stretch, he will put Roach even more , and Jaylen Blakes will be asked to play a bigger role off the bench.

“Give them (VT) credit, I know it was an important game for them. It was an important game for us. I hate it for our guys, we’ll learn from that, we’ll continue to grow,” Scheyer said Monday. “A long way to go.”

Yes, there is still a long way to go this season. Well, something like that. But is there enough time to change things?

This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: Can Jon Scheyer fix Duke basketball before March Madness?

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