No. 8 Duke won their first game with Jeff Capel as the interim head coach, but at what cost?
Amile Jefferson, Duke’s starting power forward and a guy that has been playing at an all-american level through the first two months of the season, injured his right foot midway through the first half. He limped to the bench after the injury and didn’t return to the floor. After the game, Capel confirmed that Jefferson injured the foot but said that the team would not know the extent of the injury until they have a chance to run some tests.
Last season, Jefferson’s season was ended nine games in when he fractured his right foot. That injury occurred in Dec. 2015.
Duke has already dealt with a myriad of injuries this season. Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden and and Harry Giles all missed a number of games at the start of the year due to injuries, while Grayson Allen battled a toe problem for the first six weeks of the season.
Jefferson is averaging 13.6 points and 10.8 boards this season.
Player of the Year Power Rankings: Malik Monk climbs as top five is intact
1. Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart is now averaging 20.1 points on the season after a 26-point outburst in Villanova’s win over Temple. The Wildcats likely won’t be challenged again until a New Year’s Eve trip to Omaha to take on Creighton, followed by a visit to Indianapolis for Butler four days later. That that means is that, barring a catastrophic injury, Hart is going to enter league play as the favorite to win National Player of the Year.
2. Frank Mason III, Kansas: Mason’s numbers this season are ridiculous: he’s averaging 20.3 points, 5.6 assists and 4.6 boards while shooting, as a point guard, 56 percent from the floor and 52.3 percent from three. His two best games came in the two biggest games of the year for the Jayhawks. But what I think is the most remarkable about Mason’s season has been his consistency. He’s scored 18 points or handed out at least eight assists in every game this season. He’s finished with fewer than 18 points just once and fewer than five assists just twice. Only twice has he turned the ball over more than three times. After starting the season 2-for-10 from three, he’s shot 60.5 percent from beyond the arc in the last eight games.
In a year with arguably the best crop of point guards we’ve ever seen in college hoops, Mason has been the best of the bunch. Considering some of the other names on this list, that should tell you something.
3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: Ball was just OK, by his standards, in two UCLA wins last week. He had 13 points, 10 boards and seven assists in a 40-point win over UCSB and eight points, nine boards and nine assists in a 13-point win over Ohio State. Imagine being so good that averaging 10.5 points, 9.5 boards and 8.0 assists in two games is considered “just OK”.
4. Luke Kennard, Duke: He did it again on Monday night. With the Blue Devils caught totally out of rhythm against Tennessee State, a game in which they trailed 36-34 midway through the second half, Kennard was the savior. He finished with a team-high 24 points. At one point in the second half, Kennard had 22 points on 7-for-9 shooting while his teammates, combined, had 23 points on 6-for-29 shooting.
5. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky 6. Malik Monk, Kentucky: What can be said about the 47 point outburst that Malik Monk had over the weekend that hasn’t been said yet? For me, the most important part of that performance was that head coach John Calipari showed a willingness to run set plays specifically designed to get Monk shots, and Monk showed the ability to score when those plays were run for him. This is big because, as we’ve said many times before, the way to attack Kentucky is to try and force them to play a half court game. Monk looks like he could be the antidote to that ailment.
But while Monk is getting all the accolades after the outburst that he had in Kentucky’s win over North Carolina, but I would make the argument that De’Aaron Fox has been the better player this season. He’s averaging 15.9 points, 7.2 assists and 1.7 steals as the guy that ignites that Kentucky transition game and the point man for their defense that, with the exception of games against UCLA and UNC, has been overwhelming. Put another way, I think Kentucky would be able to survive Monk getting in foul trouble or spraining an ankle better than they would if Fox was dealing with the same injury.
That said, I think it’s clear that those two work in tandem and have quite clearly become the most dangerous 1-2 punch in college hoops. Think about this: Kentucky scored 103 points in that win over North Carolina. Monk and Fox, who finished with 71 points and 12 assists combined, were responsible for (at least*) 87 of those points.
*(That does not include free throws where Monk and Fox ‘assisted’ in creating the foul.)
7. Mo Watson, Creighton: Creighton flirted with disaster over the weekend, nearly losing to an Oral Roberts team that entered the game at 2-9 on the season and rated 274th on KenPom. I’m going to chalk that one up to the Bluejays overlooking an opponent during finals week. Moving on.
8. Joel Berry II, North Carolina: The Tar Heels lost a thriller to Kentucky on Saturday, a game that literally came down to the final possession. If it wasn’t for that eruption from Malik Monk – truthfully, if it wasn’t for a three he hit with 15 seconds left – we would have spent the last 72 hours talking about how we need to consider North Carolina as a potential ACC and national title contender.
Now think about that performance and what happened against Tennessee last Sunday. The difference in those two games? The presence of Joel Berry II on the floor for the Tar Heels. That should tell you all you need to know about how good he has been this season.
9. Amile Jefferson, Duke: Jefferson dropped a spot this week because there was no justification for keeping Malik Monk out of the top six. But if Monday’s debut from Harry Giles III showed us anything, it’s that the freshman that hasn’t played basketball in 14 months is going to need some time to get up to speed. Jefferson’s job anchoring that Duke front line isn’t over yet.
10. Markelle Fultz, Washington: Fultz is still doing ridiculous things on basketball courts. He came within two assists of posting Washington’s first-ever triple-double over the weekend and is now averaging 23.2 points, 7.0 boards and 6.5 assists this season while shooting 50 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three. The raw numbers that Fultz is putting up are one thing – whoever the lead guard is in Lorenzo Romar’s system is always going to put up numbers – but what is more impressive is the efficiency with which Fultz is doing it.
Fultz is top 40 nationally in usage rate playing on a team that is top 15 in pace while playing 34 minutes a night for a program that is talent-deficient around him. And yet, he’s shooting 50 percent on twos and 50 percent on threes with a better-than 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and an offensive rating of 121.2, an insanely good number given the circumstances.
It’s so disappointing that Fultz is doing this on a team where his relevancy didn’t even last until Christmas.
JUST MISSED THE CUT
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
Melo Trimble, Maryland
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State
Alec Peters, Valparaiso
Marcus Foster, Creighton
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
T.J. Leaf, UCLA
Yante Maten, Georgia
Johnathan Motley, Baylor
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s
Player of the Year Power Rankings: There’s a new leader this week
1. Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart vaulted past Frank Mason III into the National Player of the Year lead after his dominating, 37-point performance in Villanova’s come-from-behind win to beat Notre Dame. It was as good of a performance as we’ve seen this season, and it’s worth noting that, in Villanova’s other great win this season – a Purdue – Hart was again the best player on the floor.
2. Frank Mason III, Kansas: I had to drop Mason out of the top spot this week, although it’s through no fault of his own. He’s been sensational this season. Look at this stat line: 20.5 points, 5.5 assists, 4.5 boards and 1.3 steals while shooting 58.7 percent from the floor and 54.8 percent from three. He made the game-winning jumper in Madison Square Garden to give Kansas the non-conference win they needed over Duke to cement themselves in the No. 1 overall seed discussion. He had 30 points and nine assists and was the sole reason Kansas was able to get their season-opening loss to Indiana to overtime.
The reason Hart is ahead of him? It’s simple: Hart led his team to a win over Notre Dame while Mason couldn’t quite get Kansas over the hump against Indiana. That’s how close the margins are.
3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: There’s not really much to say about Ball that we didn’t say last week. I will make this note, however: UCLA is on pace to become the best three-point shooting team since 1997, which is as far back as I can find data. They’re currently making 47.1 percent of their threes. The best season I found? Northern Colorado in 2011-12, who shot 45.1 percent from three while attempting eight fewer threes per game.
Ball is the facilitator for a lot of those open looks, there’s no question about that. But he’s also shooting 45.3 percent from three on more than five attempts per game. The knock on him entering the season was his shooting ability. His form is funky and may need to be tweaked at the next level, but it goes in, there’s no denying that.
4. Luke Kennard, Duke: As of today, Kennard is averaging 20.0 points, 6.1 boards and 3.3 assists for a consensus top five team that is currently ranked No. 1 in the NBC Sports Top 25. He’s been Duke’s best player in their four biggest games of the season, culminating in a dominating 29-point performance to lead Duke to a win over Florida in the Jimmy V Classic. He’s not Duke’s best draft prospect and, I’d argue, he’s not even one of the two best players currently playing for Duke.
And yet, he absolutely deserves to be a first-team all-american as of today. Impressive, that.
5. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Fox dropped from fourth to fifth in our rankings this week for one simple reason: He hasn’t yet had a huge game in a big win for the Wildcats. In fact, I’d make the argument that Kentucky hasn’t yet had a big win, having lost the only real chance they’ve had so far this season. What the Wildcats do in the coming week – with games against North Carolina in Las Vegas and at Louisville – will tell us a lot about where this team is headed.
6. Mo Watson, Creighton: Watson is now leading the country in assists, averaging 9.1 per game, just sneaking in front of UCLA’s Lonzo Ball. The Bluejays have one of the nation’s most high-powered offenses – they’re second nationally in three-point shooting and effective field goal percentage (to UCLA) – and Watson is the engine. Here’s a nice little graphic on where those 91 assists have gone this season:
Maurice Watson's now the Division I assists leader. 91 total (9.1 per game). Where those passes have gone… pic.twitter.com/pj0Q3dOR9y
7. Joel Berry II, North Carolina: Berry’s numbers alone are impressive. He’s averaging 14.8 points and 4.7 assists while shooting 41.9 percent from three, an important number for a team that doesn’t have a ton of perimeter scorers this season. He’s had his best games in UNC’s biggest wins, lighting up Wisconsin and Oklahoma State in Maui. But the thing about Berry is that we didn’t truly see his importance to Carolina until this week, when he was forced to miss two games due to an ankle injury. Davidson kept things closer with the Heels than they probably should have while Tennessee pulled off the near-upset. Things just run smoother for the Tar Heels when Berry is on the floor.
8. Amile Jefferson, Duke: Jefferson is a newcomer to this list, and he unquestionably deserves to be there. Let’s go beyond the fact that he’s averaging 15.1 points, 10.5 boards, 2.2 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.0 steals: His presence is what’s keeping Marques Bolden, a potential lottery pick, glued to the bench even though he’s now healthy. Jefferson Isn’t the biggest player in the country, but he’s developed into a terrific low-post scorer – he’s got what you might describe as old-man game – and he’s the maestro of that defense. Always in the right position, always directing traffic, always clearing the defensive glass. He’s turned into a terrific basketball player.
9. Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State: There’s not much to add on Evans here, as he’s dealing with a shoulder injury that kept him out of the lineup against Tulsa.
10. Markelle Fultz, Washington: The numbers that Fultz is putting up this season are ridiculous. He’s averaging 22.8 points, 6.9 assists and 6.1 boards this season in addition to 2.1 steals and 1.2 blocks. As I wrote in this space last week, what Fultz is doing has not happened since 1993, and it may never have happened before; the statistical database I have access to only has data dating back to ’93.
1. Duke is the best team in the country: And I’m not sure that I can see any argument against this, and I say that knowing full-well just how good the likes of Kansas, UCLA, Villanova and Kentucky are this season.
Because the bottom-line is this: If the season ended today, Duke would have two players – Luke Kennard and Amile Jefferson – on all-american teams; Kennard would very likely be a first-team all-american and, if it wasn’t for Josh Hart’s 37-point explosion on Saturday, would have a strong argument to be the National Player of the Year through the first month of the season.
Think about that for a second, then think about this: Grayson Allen was the NBCSports.com Preseason National Player of the Year. He played quite poorly through November as he battled a nagging toe injury, but on Saturday, he exploded for a career-high 34 points in a game where he threw down what could end up being the dunk of the season. I think he’s healthy, as is Jayson Tatum, who is a matchup nightmare that can play the three or work as Duke’s small-ball four. He’s still not totally in shape but felt good enough to put 22 points on Florida in the Jimmy V Classic.
Come March, would anyone be surprised if it was Allen and Tatum that were considered to be the players deserving of all-america consideration?
Duke still hasn’t reached their ceiling. Marques Bolden is still trying to figure out how he fits into the Duke rotation, and we’re still waiting to see just what Harry Giles III will provide if (when?) he returns to the court.
2. We’re about to learn how good Kentucky is: Because we know Kentucky is good.
They have a half-dozen future NBA players on the roster. Three could end up in the 2017 lottery. They’re averaging 94.2 points on the season, are ranked third in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric and are 9-1 on the season.
So yeah, they’re really good, we just don’t know how good. Only four of Kentucky’s ten opponents are ranked in the top 170 on KenPom.com. Only two – UCLA, who beat the Wildcats in Rupp Arena, and Michigan State, who isn’t very good – are ranked in the top 80, and the way that Kentucky plays simply overwhelms teams that can’t match them from an athleticism or talent perspective.
The good news, Kentucky fans?
People like me will stop making these references in the next ten days. Because on Saturday, the Wildcats square off with No. 7 North Carolina in Las Vegas. Four days after that, next Wednesday, Kentucky squares off with No. 11 Louisville in the Yum! Center.
For what it’s worth, KenPom is predicting that Kentucky beats the Tar Heels by a point and loses to Louisville by a point.
Speaking of the Tar Heels …
3. … we now know just how valuable Joel Berry II is to North Carolina: Playing without their star point guard, North Carolina struggled to put away Davidson and barely avoided an upset at the hands of Tennessee, both games that were played in the Dean Smith Center. There’s a reason for this, and I went through it in a post last night.
4. Villanova was tested by Notre Dame because the Irish are for real: On Saturday, No. 1 and still-undefeated Villanova was given their toughest test of the season by No. 23 and then-undefeated Notre Dame, as the Irish held an 11-point first half lead before losing, 74-66.
But it also needs to be pointed out that the reason that Villanova needed to dig out of that hole, the reason they needed Josh Hart to put together that kind of performance, was because Notre Dame is good. I don’t think they can win the ACC – a top three finish would probably be a stretch – but I don’t see any reason why this group can’t play their way into the top four of the league. Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell are two of the most improved players in college basketball while Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem are doing exactly what you would expect seniors to do under Mike Brey.
5. It might be time to be worried about the AAC: I think there’s a chance that this could end up being a one-bid league this season. While it seems more likely that two or three teams would be able to sneak in, the bottom-line is that the non-conference did not go well for the conference.
UCF is the only team left in the league with less than two losses, and their best win is over Mississippi State. UConn has been terrible, the win over Syracuse not withstanding. Temple has beaten West Virginia and Florida State while losing to New Hampshire and UMass. SMU’s best win is either Pitt or TCU, both of whom are borderline tournament teams. Houston beat Rhode Island but lost to Arkansas and LSU. Memphis beat Iowa, but Iowa’s not all that good. Tulsa is rebuilding.
The best non-conference win the AAC produced thus far is Cincinnati’s win over Iowa State, and the Cyclones are about to drop out of the top 25.
No. 5 Duke knocks off No. 21 Florida in the Jimmy V Classic
He was a McDonald’s All-American. He’s the second all-time leading high school scorer in the state of Ohio, finishing his career with more points than LeBron James, and had his pick of just about any school in the country when he decided that he would play his college basketball at Duke.
And he knew that, at Duke, at a program that has spent recent history building around the likes of Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Brandon Ingram, he was destined to be the unheralded prospect. He knew that when Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles and Grayson Allen all committed to being his teammates during his sophomore season, that he would be relegated to a role.
Here we are a month into the season, Duke is through every test they’re going to get in non-conference play, and not only is Kennard Duke’s leading scorer, if the season ended today, he’d be a first-team All-American with a very legitimate case to be the National Player of the Year. Per Draft Express, he’s the only player in college basketball averaging more than 20 points and 3.5 assists per 40 minutes and less than 2.0 turnovers per 40 minutes while shooting better than 60 percent on twos and 35 percent from three.
If I had told you that in October, you would have called me an idiot.
And you wouldn’t be the only one that was skeptical.
“I probably wouldn’t believe you,” Kennard said after putting up 29 points on 16 shots as the No. 5 Blue Devils handled No. 21 Florida in the Jimmy V Classic, 84-74. It was Kennard’s second-highest scoring output of the season and, arguably, his second-best performance in Madison Square Garden this year.
“He’s come through for us,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Beautifully.”
It’s good to be Coach K these days.
We’re a month into the season and Duke has yet to play a game where half of the four potential lottery picks on the roster have been healthy enough to look like, you know, potential lottery picks. Harry Giles is still more than a week away from actually playing in a game for the Blue Devils; Coach K said that he hopes to have him back for Duke’s two games in the week before Christmas. Marques Bolden has played just 14 minutes in two games since returning from a lower leg injury. Jayson Tatum played his second game with the Blue Devils on Tuesday night, and it wasn’t until the second half against Florida, when Tatum scored 14 of his 22 points, that he got into enough of a rhythm to take over a game the way we know he can.
And Allen, the NBC Sports Preseason National Player of the Year? He’d played in seven of Duke’s eight games, but a toe injury has sapped him of the burst that makes him such a difficult matchup.
But that hasn’t slowed the Blue Devils down. They’re 9-1 on the season, ranked in the top five of every poll and a Frank Mason III buzzer-beater away from surviving an injury-laden first month without a blemish.
It’s a credit to the amount of talent that Duke has stockpiled on their roster.
Because Kennard isn’t the only unheralded star on this Duke team. Amile Jefferson, a fifth-year senior that is only on the roster this season because Duke opted not to bring him back late last year after he suffered a broken foot, has picked up where he left off. Entering Tuesday night, Jefferson was averaging 14.7 points, 9.8 boards and 2.0 blocks. On Tuesday night, he played arguably his most impressive game as a Blue Devil, finishing with 24 points, 15 boards and four blocks.
He, too, is playing at an all-american level this season, and man, what a luxury that is to have. There isn’t another team in the country that could handle that kind of devastating injury luck without missing a beat.
“We have so many weapons in offense,” Tatum said after his breakout performance, which couldn’t have come at a better time. Not only was this Tatum’s first nationally-televised came with the Blue Devils, but he put on a show in Madison Square Garden with what seemed like half of the NBA in attendance. “On any given night two or three guys can go off. Other guys that can score might have more rebounds or assists. [Grayson’s] shots weren’t falling but he had eight assists.”
“There is absolutely no jealousy on the team with who is scoring,” Kennard said. “We have a lot of guys willing to share the ball and it’s fun to play with.”
And that may be the best news for Duke for two reasons.
On the one hand, roles are going to change now that the Blue Devils are getting healthy. The minutes-crunch will likely be felt more in the front court, where Giles and Bolden are going to have to force Coach K to take Jefferson off of the floor. Minutes and touches will be at even more of a premium if Duke continues to roll out small-ball lineups that feature Tatum at the four. Chase Jeter, who only got on the floor for one minute on Tuesday, is going to get buried on the bench again, and it wasn’t exactly promising that, in a game where Giles only participated in warm-ups, Bolden got off the pine for just two minutes.
The back court rotation will take a hit as well. Duke’s best lineup come ACC play could very well end up featuring Allen, Kennard and Tatum on the perimeter with Jefferson and Giles up front, meaning that Frank Jackson – who only played 20 minutes against Florida – and Matt Jones will likely end up seeing much less of the floor than they are right now.
But it’s also a sign that the concerns over Duke’s point guard play may have been overblown.
Entering the season, that was the biggest concern with this group. Jackson is the only point guard on the roster, but even he’s more of a scorer than he is a facilitator. That lack of a point guard hasn’t hurt Duke yet, however, and the reason for it is, as Kennard said, “There is absolutely no jealousy on the team.”
That lack of jealousy comes through in the way that Duke plays. Not only do they whip the ball around the perimeter, the Blue Devils are always going to have four-if-not-five players on the floor that can handle the ball in transition or against a press. Their best guards may not be Tyus Jones or Lonzo Ball, but they are kids that are willing and able to create off the bounce and understand how to operate in ball-screen actions. Beyond that, Duke runs crisp offense, which is as essential to efficient offenses as anything, and will always have three guys on the court that can create offense for themselves in a 1-on-1 situation.
That’s even more relevant to point out after playing Florida, who, on paper, is precisely the kind of team that should give the point guard-less Blue Devils trouble. Florida presses, entering Tuesday night 12th in defensive turnover percentage, and yet the Blue Devils committed just 13 turnovers in 71 possessions, a really good number considering the opponent and the matchup.
“Whoever gets the rebound, perimeter guys and Amile, they told us we can bring it up,” Kennard said. “We have a lot of playmakers, guys that can handle the ball coach wants us to push it. We’re a really good transition team if we get stops on defense.”
“Not having a true PG benefits us in a way.”
That’s not too bad for a team that’s still trying to work out their early-season kinks.
“It’s almost like we’re in October mode now when everyone else is in December mode,” Coach K said.
“But I think we can catch-up.”
VIDEO: Highlights from Duke’s ‘Countdown to Craziness’
With four of the eight scholarship players who took Duke on a run to its fifth national title in April having moved on, Mike Krzyzewski’s team will have a much different look in 2015-16. Duke did manage to add one of the top recruiting classes in the country (and Rice transfer Sean Obi is eligible, too), and with returnees Grayson Allen, Matt Jones, Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee expected to serve as leaders the Blue Devils are expected to once again be a national title contender.
The scrimmage consisted of two 12-minute periods, with Allen (four rebounds, three steals) and Jefferson (seven rebounds) leading the way offensively with 13 points apiece. Freshman guard Luke Kennard added 12 points in his Cameron debut and forward Chase Jeter tallied 11 points and a team-best nine rebounds. Marshall Plumlee scored in double figures as well, finishing with ten points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
Above are the top five plays from the scrimmage, courtesy of Duke Athletics.