Duke is not -- and was never -- unbeatable

January, 13, 2011
1/13/11
1:06
AM ET
On Jan. 3, Florida State lost to Auburn, arguably the worst major-conference team in the country.

Two games later, the Seminoles beat No. 1 Duke, arguably the best team in the country.

And that just about sums up college basketball over the past 35 years.

Anything can happen and anything does happen. A kid named Ali Farokhmanesh can grace the cover of national magazines and a team straight out of the movies can play in a national championship game.

[+] EnlargeFlorida State
AP Photo/Steve CannonFor the third time in the past decade, FSU students rushed the court after a defeat of No. 1 Duke.
Power teams don’t exist anymore, or at least not the way we expect them to. On the hierarchical scale of one to perfection, we constantly come up short.

An unblemished team has become an antiquated notion, a throwback sitting right alongside short shorts and Chuck Taylors in the historical archives.

There are currently four teams left with a beautiful goose egg in the right side of the win-loss ledger: Ohio State, Kansas, Syracuse and San Diego State.

And when I think of them, I think of Agatha Christie. She of the “And Then There Were None” fame. That’s where we will be soon enough.

All four will lose. And probably soon.

Bank on it.

Don’t believe it? Let history be your guide.

Two seasons ago around this time, North Carolina was deemed unstoppable, a roster loaded with talent and experience with that extra dose of an intangible: pride.

And then in early January the Tar Heels lost at home to Boston College, a team picked to finish 11th in the 12-team ACC.

Last season around this time, Kansas wore the mantle of The Unbeatables. That is until a ragtag Tennessee team, shredded by suspensions, beat the Jayhawks thanks to the chutzpah of a walk-on named Skylar McBee.

Pick a season. Pick a team. Pick a loss.

And so this season it is Duke. The Blue Devils were anointed before the confetti was swept off Lucas Oil Stadium floor in Indianapolis.

Back-to-back titles were seen as a foregone conclusion by some, the potential to run the table providing actual watercooler talk since Midnight Madness.

Until Wednesday night, when those Devil-killers from Florida State struck again. The same team that beat a No. 1 Duke team in 2002 and 2006 as an unranked squad pulled it off once more, winning 66-61 in Tallahassee.

And make no mistake: Duke didn't give this game away. Florida State won it.

The Seminoles put together a game plan -- one that is furiously being copied in basketball offices across the ACC here in the wee hours of Wednesday night -- that exposed the Blue Devils’ weaknesses.

Stop me if you heard this one before: Duke doesn’t have a strong enough post presence and is too reliant on the 3-pointer.

What, you didn’t realize Brian Zoubek was arguably the most valuable player on that national championship team? Seriously.

“There will be nights when some of the shots aren’t going to fall and they probably gotta get a little better in the low post,’’ a prescient Tom Izzo said of the Blue Devils’ chance at perfection after his Michigan State team lost to Duke last month.

[+] EnlargeDuke V. FSU
AP Photo/Steve CannonFSU outshot the Blue Devils, 44 to 31 percent.
Truth is, in this game and on this night, Duke didn’t have a post presence and was too reliant on the 3-pointer. The Blue Devils jacked up a season-high 35 shots from beyond the arc and missed 24 of them. They were also unable to get anything out of the Plumlee brothers down low.

Mason and Miles Plumlee, along with Ryan Kelly, combined to go 2-of-8, an unproductive night if there ever was one.

Against anyone that’s a problem. Against Florida State, a steal-your-lunch-money defensive team that ranks second in the nation in field goal percentage defense -- allowing opponents a measly 35 percent from the floor -- that’s a disaster.

Duke came into this game shooting just shy of 50 percent from the floor, having never dipped below the 40 percent mark in any game this season.

In the first half against Florida State, the Blue Devils shot 9-of-32. For the game, they were 19-of-61 (31 percent). That’s the lowest shooting percentage from a losing No. 1 team since 2006.

You could call that bad shot selection or you could call that great defense. Depends on your sweatshirt color (I’m going with great defense because that’s how it sure looked).

Regardless, those are legitimate issues, ones that could bite the Blue Devils again before this season ends and could derail Duke from what some thought was a forced march to the March Madness crown.

But the fact is, every team has a soft spot or vulnerability and every team can and will lose.

It is the byproduct of parity, of one-and-dones and roster turnover, and of both the number of good players and the number of rosters they are stretched across.

Dynasties are made to be broken and in this day and age, broken up quickly.

Mike Krzyzewski dismissed the notion that his team could put together a perfect run a long time ago, back when Kyrie Irving was still in uniform and the possibility seemed more real.

“You have to be a really old team, old and talented to do it,’’ he said early last month. “There’s no way our team could do that. … Teams just aren’t like that anymore and so you’re more susceptible to getting beat.’’

Naysayers and critics will say it is an apologists’ take. Duke loses and everyone comes out with the excuses. Krzyzewski was merely spinning ahead to offer his team an out.

Not the case. There is no excuse.

There is only the reality.

In this era of college basketball, everyone loses.

Nobody’s perfect.

Dana O'Neil | email

College Basketball

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