Duke way better than it should be, while Indiana has been a letdown

They really did hit them with the ultimate three-letter taunt.

Duke’s fans had so little respect for Indiana that, with the Hoosiers trailling by 23 points and three minutes remaining in Wednesday night’s game at Cameron Indoor, the chants came cascading.

“N! I! T! N! I! T! N! I! T!”

That’s cold, certainly premature … and really good chaffing.

Besides, could you blame the Crazies? After the first half of the first half of this game against the Blue Devils, Indiana didn’t impress at all. It fell on its face, failing once again to play any semblance of consistent defense and in the process opening itself up to widespread criticism over the unsual chasm this club has. Obviously no one reasonably expected IU to go into Cameron and get a win (Duke hasn’t lost a home non-conference game since most of the players on its roster were in diapers).

But at least keep it interesting? That was the hope. Unfortunately, the only interesting part came when there was a brief saga over whether an Indiana player advertently or inadverently bumped into Mike Krzyewski as the teams went to halftime break.

Duke won with ease 94-74, moving to 7-1 in the process and giving Indiana its worst start to a season since the dreadful 2009-10 year, when IU finished 10-21. Meanwhile, reigning national champ Duke lost its heart, soul, engine — and the majority of its talent from last season’s team. Yet you wouldn’t really know it.

I come away from this game thinking this: Duke is way better than it should be at this point, while Indiana is the opposite. And doesn’t that say it all about these programs? Emblematic.

It’s not like Indiana is terrible now or was all terrible Wednesday. It simply went limp on one end of the floor — again. Shooting 51 percent on the road is fantastic, especially against a top-10 team. IU achieved that. But how do you shoot that well yet manage to lose by 20? Defense — or lack thereof. This is seemingly a problem that can’t get fixed. Very bad defensive teams seldom turn the entire vessel around, and IU is a very bad defensive team. Indiana is destined to frustrate its fans this season because of this. That sweet offense is fun to watch, can flare up at a second’s notice and hit a sixth gear. Troy Williams, Yogi Ferrell, Thomas Bryant and James Blackmon Jr. have the goods when they have the ball.

But this team doesn’t look concerned, even interested, in playing defense. Duke is far from hitting its ceiling, yet it put up 94 points casually on a group that was considered worthy of the top three in the Big Ten. Indiana isn’t that. It’s probably going to be good enough to reach the NCAA Tournament, but that’s not going to be enough. I mean, Duke had three more offensive rebounds than Indiana had defensive rebounds. What?

IU and its fans are going to have to hope the Hoosiers can ride their offense to a single-digit seed, then hope the matchups favor them in a way that gets them to the second weekend. It’s a dangerous gambit, but it is possible. Watching this play out all season will be fascinating.

As for Duke, Brandon Ingram got his chance to show out, putting up a game- and career-high 24 points. If you’re a player out there looking to get good or bust a slump, you could do worse than facing the Hoosiers. Duke senior Amile Jefferson had one of the best all-around showings of his career, scoring eight but grabbing 11 rebounds, dishing eight assists and tallying three blocks.

Matt Jones also had himself a career high, going for 23 and sinking five of his 11 3-point attempts. For Indiana, watching Jones go to work had to be like looking in a mirror.

You know it’s your night when things like this happen, too.

For Duke, it’s the 121st consecutive home victory against a team from outside the ACC.

For Indiana, it’s a reminder and, really, a realization of a season that is going to be inconsistent but gripping. The Hoosiers will give us some fun highlights and big runs, but without a whiff of defense in the mix, how many victories against NCAA Tournament-quality teams can be expected?

Brandon Ingram had his breakout game against the Hoosiers, scoring a game-high 24. (USATSI)

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