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Jeff Eisenberg

Why Duke's first loss shouldn't have been a huge shock

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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The schedule will say defending national champion Duke lost its first game of the season on Wednesday night at Florida State.

In reality, this defeat had roots way back on Dec. 4 in New Jersey.

If Duke had a glimmer of hope of going undefeated at the start of the season, it vanished as soon as freshman phenom Kyrie Irving suffered his potentially season-ending right toe injury against Butler. A Blue Devils team that entered the season a clear favorite to win the national title lost its catalyst, its quickest defender and its top playmaker all in one, leaving it far more vulnerable even in an ACC that may be as bad as it's ever been.

Nolan Smith had thrived as Duke's primary ball handler and scorer since Irving's injury, but that had come against the likes of mostly overmatched opponents like Bradley, Saint Louis and UNC Greensboro. Defensive-minded Florida State represented Duke's biggest test since Irving's injury, not to mention its first true road test of the season.

To say that Duke did not pass that test would be an understatement of epic proportions. The Blue Devils relied too heavily on three-pointers, jacking up a season-high 35 of them and missing 24. They also struggled once again against a quality front line and failed to get any semblance of interior production of their own, the Plumlees and Ryan Kelly going a combined 2-for-8 from the floor.

This shouldn't make it seem like all hope is lost for Duke because by no means is it. Smith, Kyle Singler, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins still give the Blue Devils the best perimeter core in the nation and there's still hope that Irving could rejoin them before the start of the NCAA tournament.

What we learned from Wednesday night was this: Before Irving's injury, Duke was the best team in the nation, no question. Now the Blue Devils are merely one of the best.

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