- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2002

Could there be a crack in college basketball's blue empire?

Duke is the defending national champion and top-ranked team heading into tonight's showdown with No.3 Maryland but until recently hasn't looked like the sport's most revered team.

The Blue Devils' loss to Florida State sent shock waves though the ACC and notice that Duke may be vulnerable without national Player of the Year Shane Battier. Mike Kryzewski's crew never loses to such unheralded foes as the Seminoles, who had lost to American University weeks earlier in the same arena.

"We were kind of messed up," said Duke center Carlos Boozer, of the state of mind after the 77-76 loss in Tallahassee. "We were getting by scoring points, not by guarding people. Our intensity was based on offense, not like it should be on defense. We had to play better defense whether we make a shot or not."

Even though it is Duke's only loss of the season, the loss brought to light another major problem leadership. The Blue Devils lost the anchor of their title team when Battier graduated after last season.

Battier, the three-time national Defensive Player of the Year who was a lottery pick by the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies, was the emotional as well as on-court leader for the Blue Devils. Without Battier, the Blue Devils won their first 12 games of the season, only not in customary fashion.

"It wasn't fun because we weren't dominating like we usually do," sophomore guard Chris Duhon said. "Florida State was a wakeup call. We just stopped everything and started again."

The Blue Devils have posted blowouts over Georgia Tech and N.C. State since that loss. And Krzyzewski has made an effort to assume some of the leadership role in support of star juniors Jason Williams, Boozer and Mike Dunleavy. As the national anthem was playing before the Georgia Tech game, Coach K was locked arm in arm with Duhon.

"He's a little more emotional," said Duhon, who has seen the stoic coach work the sideline more and instill discipline on his team. "That's what we need. We didn't need it last year with Shane as the leader. Even Coach said he fed off Shane's intensity."

Krzyzewski felt his team wasn't working hard enough, particularly on defense. The coach is trying to mold this season's team with small forward Dahntay Jones, a transfer from Rutgers, and Dunleavy switching from small forward to power forward.

"We're learning about each other," Coach K said. "Dahntay is becoming more comfortable in what we're doing. There are a number of changes on our team that you don't just change it on paper and have it work cohesively on the court. It takes time to do that. I think we are getting to know each other's roles better."

The results since the disaster against the Seminoles have been impressive in numbers, a 104-79 win over Georgia Tech and a 76-57 victory over N.C. State. But the Blue Devils haven't faced a top-notch team.

That comes tonight.

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