The undefeated dream is over. The dream of winning championships -- ACC and NCAA -- remains very much alive.
Duke returned to the mainland after the Maui Invitational destined to lose its No. 1 ranking but knowing far more about itself than it knew when the team left Durham on Nov. 16.
The Blue Devils played three games in three days on Maui, the final two against fellow top-10 teams Auburn and Gonzaga.
Duke won’t face another such challenge prior to March at the ACC tournament in Charlotte. That’s the only other time this season when playing three games in three days would be required.
Doing it before Thanksgiving, on a team with four freshmen starters, went a long way toward Duke discovering what it needs to do to be at its best when the March arrives and it’s time for the tournaments that matter most.
The Blue Devils (5-1) suffered their first loss, falling 89-87 in the thrilling tournament championship game to No. 3 Gonzaga.
Neither team had much time to prepare. Duke’s semifinal win over Auburn ended around 7 p.m. local time on Tuesday night. Gonzaga played and beat Arizona immediately after. Their title game tipped off at noon Hawaiian Time on Wednesday.
“Gonzaga’s a team you would like about four days of preparation for, you know?” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They do so many things. So in trying to simplify things in a one day, less than one day prep, we weren’t able to do that. That’s part of it. But we won’t be in that situation again. So overall to play and be put in a position to win against them, overall that’s a good thing for our team.”
So what are some of the things we’ve learned about Duke over its first six games, especially its three games in Maui? Here are a few:
Tre Jones is Duke’s leader
Krzyzewski named junior reserves Javin DeLaurier and Jack White as Duke’s team captains for this season. Freshman point guard Tre Jones, though, already has the utmost respect of his teammates for his steady, smart play.
“Tre, I think, is the heart and soul of our team,” DeLaurier said. “We go as he goes, he’s an amazing player. He almost never makes the wrong play and he’s capable of providing everyone with energy. We all respect him. He’s our point guard and we’ll follow him into battle.”
Jones averages 30.8 minutes per game, second only to R.J. Barrett’s 32.2. Jones and Barrett each played 39 minutes against Gonzaga.
Jones only averages 9.5 points and Duke doesn’t need him to be a big scorer. Still, he’s effective when he does shoot. He’s made 46.7 percent of his shots, including 6 of 11 3-pointers (54.5 percent).
Jones has 33 assists with just eight turnovers. He clearly has the trust of Duke’s coaching staff.
“He has tremendous feel for the game,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s way ahead in spite of his young age. That’s one of his gifts.”
The Gonzaga game was too much for Reddish
Duke freshman Cam Reddish sure appeared to let the emotions of the showdown with Gonzaga impact him.
He made just 3 of 9 shots to score 10 points. In Duke’s two other games with top-10 teams, he scored 22 against Kentucky and 18 against Auburn.
But against Gonzaga, Reddish had four fouls and committed four turnovers. He drove into the lane and launched wild shots early in the game when Gonzaga zoomed ahead.
He played 25 minutes, which was the same amount as White played off the bench. Duke trailed 77-64 when Krzyzewski replaced Reddish with DeLaurier with 8:17 to play when the freshman picked up his fourth foul. Duke came all the way back to tie with him on the bench and he didn’t return until 30 seconds remained.
Duke needs more from Reddish to be at its best. His performance against Kentucky proved that. He has it in him, He could show it again as soon as Duke’s game with Indiana on Tuesday night.
The Blue Devils certainly need him to.
Is Duke’s chemistry being tested?
Barrett’s been Duke’s top scorer, topping the 20-point mark in five of Duke’s six games. His 18 points against Auburn mark his season low.
Barrett’s 125 shots are 50 more than any other Duke player. Williamson is second with 75.
Now, Duke’s offense is designed such that plays aren’t run for specific players. Krzyzewski trusts his players to make good decisions with the ball, whether that means shooting or passing.
After Gonzaga took an 89-87 lead with 1:15 to play, Barrett missed four shots over the rest of the game.
He took a 3-pointer seeking to put Duke ahead. He drove into the lane with 41 seconds left and had his shot blocked.With 32 seconds, Barrett had another shot in the lane blocked. And, of course, his final shot attempt with one second left was blocked leaving Duke two points short of overtime.
On all of those drives into the lane, Gonzaga’s defense collapsed on Barrett. The opportunity was there for him to possibly pass to an open teammate.
Barrett has already shown the ability to drive and score through contact this season. He sought to do it again and failed against Gonzaga.
Barrett is second on Duke’s team in assists (24). He has the ability to find the open man.
The question is whether his teammates will accept him erring on the side of shooting rather than passing as the season progresses or if he’ll be asked to distribute a bit more.
Jack White will impact games
The 6-7 junior from Australia has improved his game in all areas. He defends well, is able to hit open 3-pointers and makes good decisions with the ball.
White has played 25.7 minutes per game. That’s starter level playing time. He’s committed just two turnovers in 154 minutes.
White’s eight blocked shots are third on the team behind Williamson (16) and Bolden (13).
He makes tough plays for Duke and there’s every indication he’ll continue to do so.