The lingering question following Duke's stunning 93-78 loss to St. John's on Sunday afternoon is what the outcome says about the Blue Devils' chances of winning a second straight championship this March.
Will we one day view this game as an aberration the way we now look at Duke's loss at Georgetown this time last year? Or is this a sign the Blue Devils aren't the title contenders we've pegged them to be up to this point?
It's never wise to make sweeping generalizations based on a single game, but some of the flaws St. John's exposed in Duke appear to be longterm concerns, especially if point guard Kyrie Irving is unable to return from his toe injury this season.
1. Duke lacks any semblance of back-to-the-basket scoring on offense. This isn't a revelation since Miles and Mason Plumlee have never been low-post scorers and have always been more effective defending, rebounding in transition, but it's part of the reason the Blue Devils have looked so one-dimensional recently.
2. The absence of Irving has also limited Duke's ability to create open looks via dribble penetration. Whereas a quick point guard like Irving can get in the lane, force the defense to collapse on him and kick to open shooters, the rest of the Blue Devils aren't as skilled in that area. As a result, the team is taking more contested jump shots, contributing to their poor shooting against Florida State earlier this month and their 1 of 21 3-point shooting prior to the final five minutes on Saturday.
3. Duke's lack of athleticism or lateral quickness on the perimeter remains an issue defensively, just as it has been in previous years. The addition of Irving would have helped in this area and enabled the Blue Devils to better pressure the ball, but wihout him this is not a strength.
Duke has overcome those flaws to win 19 of 21 games and remain a fixture in the top five so far this season, but that gaudy record is lacking in substance. While victories over Michigan State, Kansas State and Butler appeared impressive at the time, not a single opponent Duke has played or will play this season is currently ranked in the Coaches Poll.
In a year in which there are no dominant teams in the sport, it would be foolish to suggest Duke can't win a championship this season, especially considering it's still possible Irving will return.
Still, it's clear Duke is no longer the prohibitive favorite it was when the season began. The Blue Devils are merely one of a large group of contenders trying to patch their leaks and stay afloat in a jumbled title race.