For the second time this season, the inexperienced roster of No. 10 Duke faced a ranked opponent. And for the second time this season, Duke indeed played like it had an inexperienced roster. The Blue Devils fell flat Tuesday night to No. 6 Illinois in an 83-68 drubbing on their home court, dropping them to 2-2 on the season. It's their worst start to a regular season since 1999-2000, when that Mike Krzyzewski-coached club shook the funk to finish 29-5 overall.
This team has a long ways to replicating that trajectory. Duke struggled mightily to knock down shots from the perimeter against the Illini, and again it struggled to create offense in the halfcourt. Replacing ACC Player of the Year and starting point guard Tre Jones was expected to be tough, but Duke is experiencing painful growing pains in his absence. Through four games this season, the team has 63 total assists to 64 turnovers, with Jeremy Roach, Jordan Goldwire and DJ Steward operating in a timeshare of sorts as the team's initiator.
Maybe, just maybe, Duke's youth will eventually elevate itself; playing seven newcomers, six of whom are freshmen, is bound to induce some hiccups in the journey. But Tuesday night showed that whatever level Duke and its five-star flush roster is capable of going to, Illinois is already there.
"Illinois was old and good, and we were young and not good," said Coach K, succinctly summing up the game. "I think on the defensive end we're hungry and play hard, but on offense we're not good and we're not confident. We work hard, but have a lot of growing to do."
Ayo Dosunmu had a monstrous 18 points, 12 boards and five assists for the Illini. Kofi Cockburn had 13 points and eight boards. But the supporting cast is where this team really stands out right now. Freshmen Adam Miller and Andre Curbelo added 9 and 12 points, respectively. Trent Frazier and Damonte Williams had 10 of their own. And off the bench, Giorgi Bezhanishvili rolled up 11 points and five boards. What we know about the Illinois now is that their stars are great, and their supporting cast is equally as reliable. The team took just 11 3-pointers and made seven of them, the distinct luxury of an efficient club that finished 58% from the floor shooting. That's not anomalous with the strengths of this team.
Itching for more college hoops analysis? Listen below and subscribe to the Eye on College Basketball podcast where we take you beyond the hardwood with insider information and instant reactions.
Historically, Duke is likely to be fine and rebound from this early season swoon -- rarely does Coach K face this tough a gauntlet out of the gate. But, historically, Tuesday's loss was in rare air: it's the first time in 38 years Duke has lost two nonconference games at home, the last being 1982-1983, when Coach K was in his third season.
"We're just an average team that's very young that has to get better," said Krzyzewski. "We're just going to keep working and getting better."