Florida State’s Jarquez Smith (23) blocks the shot attempt of Duke’s Jayson Tatum in the first half of Tuesday’s game in Tallahassee, Fla. Tatum had 21 points, the ninth straight game in double figures for the freshman, but the No. 7 Blue Devils fell 88-72 to the No. 9 Seminoles.
By Adam Rowe
Special to the Times
“Duke can’t catch a break.”
That was an actual quote by one of the captains on the 2016-17 Duke men’s basketball team, if you’re wondering how this team is doing.
Senior Matt Jones said those words after Duke beat Boston College last Saturday afternoon, but lost Jones’ fellow captain Amile Jefferson due to a right foot injury. If you remember correctly, yes, that’s the same foot that caused Jefferson to miss all but nine games of his true senior season last year and receive a medical hardship waiver to return this year as a graduate student. Jefferson’s absence makes it eight rotation players to miss at least one game due to injury, and it comes at a time when Duke needs the leaders on the roster the most as the Blue Devils head into the teeth of their Atlantic Coast Conference schedule.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski is in his second game of indefinite leave after undergoing successful back surgery on Friday and former captain Grayson Allen is awash in controversy with every move he makes.
This is the time when Duke needs Jefferson the most and he’s out for an indefinite (notice a trend?) amount of time. Nobody’s going to make excuses for Duke, and certainly not the team itself, but it is absolutely crazy how much hardship the Blue Devils have had to endure with just over half of the season gone by.
Allen isn’t a captain anymore by name, but Duke needs his leadership now. Without Jefferson on the court, Duke is missing its vocal leader and the one who is an extension of the coaches to the players on the floor. Allen, as the team’s new choice at point guard, will have to take on that role of leadership now even though he’s not wearing the “C” on his jersey anymore.
TIME TO STEP UP
Duke had the No. 1 recruiting class in the country last year according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings and, now that all of the freshmen are (relatively) healthy, it is time for them to fully arrive.
Jayson Tatum is nearing his full potential at the college level, having scored in double figures in each of his first eight games. Harry Giles has improved in each of his five games at the college level and Frank Jackson has been an integral part of Duke’s backcourt rotation thus far.
However, heading into Tuesday night’s matchup against No. 9 Florida State, the No. 7 Blue Devils need everything they can get from the top-rated Class of 2016’s center Marques Bolden, who was a starter in the preseason before he got hurt in practice prior to the season opener. It’s taken a little longer for Bolden to get up to speed than his fellow teammates, but against the big front line of the Seminoles he needs to make another jump. Especially with Jefferson out for what is expected to be an extended period of time.
After losing its ACC opener Dec. 31 at Virginia Tech, Duke returned to the court with a vengeance Jan. 4 with a 110-57 thrashing of Georgia Tech in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Allen returned after a one-game suspension and scored 15 points and doled out seven assists. Tatum led the Blue Devils with 19 points as they had seven players to score in double figures.
With assistant coach Jeff Capel taking over for Kryzewski, who underwent successful back surgery Friday, Duke held off Boston College 93-82 on Saturday in Cameron. Tatum again led the way with a career-high 22 points, with nine coming in the final five minutes as the Blue Devils withstood a late surge by the Eagles to improve to 14-2 overall and 2-1 in the ACC.
After Tuesday’s game at No. 9 Florida St., Duke continues its toughest week of the season to date with a game at No. 14 Louisville on Saturday, starting at noon on ESPN. The Blue Devils won’t play again until Saturday, Jan. 21, against Miami in Durham.
TWO EARLY ENROLLEES
When class resumed for Duke University on Monday morning, there were two mid-year enrollees who will be a part of the football program. Quarterback Chris Katrenick, the lone QB commit in the 2017 class, and safety Marquis Waters are now college students and will adjust use their early arrivals to get a jump on the other 19 members of their recruiting class.
Duke doesn’t generally add transfers in football, but the last one they had from Ohio State, 2015 ACC Defensive Player of the Year Jeremy Cash, worked out pretty well. While Evan Lisle isn’t expected to make the kind of impact Cash did, the graduate transfer from the Buckeyes will provide an immediate boost to Duke’s offensive line.
At 6-foot-7, 308 pounds, Lisle can play either guard or tackle and makes the Blue Devils’ offensive line able to withstand pressure from the kinds of big defensive lines showcased in the College Football Playoff Championship on Monday night.
Adam Rowe covers Duke basketball, football and recruiting for 247Sports.com. Check out more of his work at duke.247sports.com.