Amile Jefferson

VIDEO: Highlights from Duke’s ‘Countdown to Craziness’

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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.

But with all of those new pieces the team is still a work in progress, which isn’t an issue given the fact that we’re in mid-October. Saturday Duke held its annual “Countdown to Craziness” event at Cameron Indoor Stadium, unveiling their newest national championship banner and also holding an intrasquad scrimmage.

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.

NC State’s Cat Barber cleared to play

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NC State guard Cat Barber was taken out of Thursday night’s ACC Tournament quarterfinal loss to Duke after being leveled by a screen from Amile Jefferson.

The concern was that Barber, the team’s third-leading scorer, had suffered a concussion. On Friday afternoon, the program announced that was not the case and he will be able to appear in NC State’s next contest. The official release states he suffered spasms in his neck.

“He just didn’t see it,” Jefferson said when asked about the play, via Joe Gigilo of the News Observer. “I knew it was going to be a tough hit for him. That’s why after that timeout, I went to check on him, make sure he was all right.”

Even with the loss NC State remains in the projected tournament field as a No. 9 seed. The quarterfinal loss to Duke could serve as a blessing in disguise for Barber, who will have the rest of the week to recover before the NCAA tournament begins on Thursday afternoon.

Rebounding, foul shooting help No. 2 Duke make up for 19 turnovers in win over UConn

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In each of their first eight games of the season No. 2 Duke managed to take good care of the basketball, committing no more than 12 turnovers in any game and tallying more assists than turnovers in each of those contests. However in the last two games the Blue Devils have committed a total of 36 turnovers, with 19 coming Thursday night in their 66-56 win over UConn at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Duke was able to hold off a formidable UConn team by taking care of business in other areas, most notably the offensive glass. Despite the best efforts of Kentan Facey (14 points, nine rebounds) the Huskies could not keep Duke off of the offensive glass, as the Blue Devils managed to grab 14 offensive rebounds.

Duke corralled 40 percent of its missed shots Thursday night, and while the Blue Devils enjoyed just a three-point edge in second-chance points (13-10) the work of Amile Jefferson and Jahlil Okafor (seven offensive rebounds combined) took its toll on a team that played most of the game with its most imposing interior player (Amida Brimah) saddled with foul trouble. The second chances may not have paid off in the form of points but they did affect the foul count, as UConn committed 24 personal fouls and Duke attempted 34 free throws.

What’s also taken its toll on Duke’s opponents this season is the task of defending Okafor, who through ten games has cemented himself as a national Player of the Year candidate.

With Okafor in the middle Duke has a big man their other four pieces can play off of, as he’s proven to be an adept passer out of double teams. Okafor finished Thursday’s game with just two assists, but there were also occasions in which his pass out of trouble made it possible for the Blue Devils to make the next pass for a solid look. And with there being few big men in college basketball capable of defending him without help, that’s an important attribute for Okafor moving forward.

Classmates Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow were also key figures against UConn, with Jones accounting for 21 points, five rebounds and three assists on the night. His ability to work together with senior Quinn Cook has been one of the biggest stories of the season to date, as Cook has performed well off the ball and Jones has played his best basketball in Duke’s most important games (Michigan State, Wisconsin and UConn). Cook was solid defensively for the Blue Devils, defending Ryan Boatright for much of the night with UConn’s leader committing five turnovers to go along with his 22 points and seven rebounds

As for Winslow his versatility as a defender allows him to defend multiple positions, which is something opponents have to account for in planning for Duke. Duke’s starting five was productive against UConn, but even with that being the care there are areas in which they can stand to improve.

As noted above Duke hasn’t taken good care of the basketball in their last two games, and at times they struggled when UConn ramped up the pressure defensively. Duke’s also going to need more production from their bench than the zero points they received, with Rasheed Sulaimon accounting for five turnovers in 17 minutes of action. Duke has players capable of contributing off the bench, but consistency will be key for the reserves moving forward.

Thursday’s win wasn’t the prettiest for Duke, but even with the turnovers and 37.5% shooting from the field the Blue Devils found a way to take advantage of other areas. And that’s something they can build upon as the start of ACC approaches.

Top 25 Countdown: No. 4 Duke Blue Devils

Jahlil Okafor (AP Photo)
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Jahlil Okafor (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 4 Duke.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule

Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Last Season: 26-9, 13-5 ACC (3rd), lost to Mercer in the Round of 64

Key Losses: Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, Andre Dawkins, Tyler Thornton

Newcomers: Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow, Grayson Allen

Projected Lineup

G: Tyus Jones, Fr.
G: Quinn Cook, Sr.
G: Rasheed Sulaimon, Jr.
F: Amile Jefferson, Jr.
C: Jahlil Okafor, Fr.
Bench: Justise Winslow, Fr.; Grayson Allen, Fr.; Matt Jones, So.; Marshall Plumlee, Jr.; Semi Ojeleye, So.

They’ll be good because … : The Blue Devils have has much talent on their roster as anyone in the country, and that includes Kentucky. The Wildcats have nine McDonalds All-Americans on their roster, which just so happens to be the same number that Coach K has collected in Durham. Jabari Parker is no longer with Duke, but the team is headlined, once again, by freshman from Chicago that is expected to compete for All-American awards this year. Jahlil Okafor is the best low-post player to come through the high school ranks in a long time, and he’ll be the anchor for this group offensively. Don’t be surprised to see him average somewhere in the neighborhood of 17 points and 10 boards.

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And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Duke’s back court is absolutely loaded this year. Quinn Cook is a two-year starter at the point for the Blue Devils, and he may not even be the best point guard on the roster. Tyus Jones, who came to Duke in a package deal with Okafor, is expected to have the ball in his hands the majority of the time this season. Rasheed Sulaimon and Matt Jones are back as well, and they’ll be pushed for playing time by Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen, two more burger boys. Don’t be surprised to see Duke play with four guards at times this season, using Winslow at the four, in order to get their five best players on the floor at the same time.

But they might disappoint because … : There are two real question marks with this Duke team, the biggest of which has to do with how some veterans are going to accept a younger generation. Quinn Cook is a senior and has been the starting point guard for the Blue Devils for the past two seasons, but he may end up ceding that role to Tyus Jones this year. That doesn’t mean that Cook won’t see significant minutes — he actually would be a pretty good fit playing off-guard — but it will be a very different role. And he won’t be alone, either, as freshmen Justise Winslow and Grayson Allen are going to be pushing the like of Rasheed Sulaimon and Matt Jones — and Cook — for minutes. How will the vets handle it if their minutes are taken away? Will Sulaimon be able to bounce back from a rough sophomore season?

The other issue is front court depth. Jahlil Okafor is going to be a star. You won’t find anyone willing to argue that fact. But beyond that, there are question marks. Amile Jefferson had a better-than-expected sophomore season, particularly with his work on the glass, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s an undersized four that is limited offensively. He won’t be spreading the floor and creating space for Okafor on the block. Marshall Plumlee, another seven-footer, won’t be doing that, either. And Ojeleye? He wasn’t much more than a dunker as a freshman. That’s it when it comes to front court players. It will be interesting to see just how much of a supporting cast Okafor has there.

Outlook: It’s going to be interesting to see how Coach K uses this roster this season. I’d expect them to look similar to the Ohio State team from 2010-2011, back when Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft were freshman. Thad Matta surrounded Sullinger, another phenomenal low-post scorer, with four guards that could all hit open threes and dared teams to try and double-team the big fella. I could see Duke doing something similar with Jahlil Okafor, using Justise Winslow or even a guy like Rasheed Sulaimon or Grayson Allen at the four.

The difference between that Ohio State team and this Duke team is that those Buckeyes could grind defensively with the best of them. Duke is going to get out and pressure the ball in their man-to-man this season, the way that they always have done under Coach K. They’re not going to let you run your sets. But I’m not sure how many really good on-ball defenders they have in their back court. The ACC is absolutely loaded at the top this season, with North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville all capable of winning a league title. For my money, Duke is the favorite. But it will, by no means, be a cakewalk. They might make a Final Four despite finishing fourth in their conference.

Duke forward Amile Jefferson discusses recovery from hip surgery

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With Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood both being selected in the first round of the NBA Draft and Josh Hairston graduating several months earlier, the only member of the Duke frontline who saw consistent play time was Amile Jefferson. Recently, the 6-foot-8 Jefferson has returned to playing after recovering from hip surgery he underwent this summer.

This weekend he sat down with John Watson from TheDevinDen.com, part of the Scout network, for a Q & A as he updated the status of his surgically repaired hip.

In his most recent media session, Coach K said you were getting back to full speed and over your injury … so, what exactly happened?

Amile Jefferson: Early in the offseason I tweaked something and it just didn’t feel right. I had a chance to meet with our trainers and some doctors to figure it out. They all thought the best thing for me was to just rest and take some time off. Really it was just the wear and tear from last season, which was a tough one with a long banging. Since it was the summer and we had time, we figured it was best to take our time and get healthy.

So, it was a hip injury, then? Coach mentioned you’re just now working to find your explosion again…

It was, but the time off has helped me get back. Once i was cleared to return things felt like they always did, and I can get up and down the court really well. I don’t have my normal explosion because of the extended time off, but that’s coming back. We are working on lifting with my legs now, so that I’ll be back to full strength.

Jefferson started 26 of 35 games last season averaging 6.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. The next most experienced big is Marshall Plumlee (8.5 minutes per game). However, Duke certainly doesn’t lack front court talent. Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow will bolster the frontline, as will Semi Ojeleye in his second season in Durham.

While sidelined Jefferson made his contributions to the team through communication, as Bret Sterlow noted last week for the News & Observer, which will be an important asset this season with several newcomers to the program.

The Blue Devils open the season against Presbyterian on Nov. 14 at home.

Valiant in defeat, No. 17 Duke hurt by lack of interior options

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The hype for Saturday’s game between No. 17 Duke and No. 2 Syracuse was immense, and in situations such as this one it seems near impossible for the matchup to live up to the pre game chatter. But the Blue Devils and Orange lived up to the hype and then some, playing the most exciting 45 minutes of basketball we’ve seen to this point in the season.

C.J. Fair scored the last of his career-high 28 points with a free throw just over five seconds remaining in overtime, giving Syracuse the 91-89 victory and moving the Orange to 21-0 (8-0 ACC). Duke, with its capable three-point shooters, attacked the Syracuse zone in a way that most teams are dissuaded from doing. While they did manage to work the ball inside, scoring 32 points in the paint, the Blue Devils did much of their damage from beyond the arc.

Of Duke’s 72 field goal attempts half of them were three-pointers, with the Blue Devils making 15 of those 36 shots. Those long shots resulted in rebounding opportunities for a Duke team that isn’t deep inside and they took advantage, rebounding nearly 41% of their misses and scoring 22 second-chance points.

Much of that was done by Jabari Parker and Amile Jefferson, who grabbed 11 of those offensive rebounds and proved once again to be the best that Duke has inside when it comes to front court “muscle.” So with this being the case, obviously it was a big deal when both fouled out late in regulation. With those two unavailable head coach Mike Krzyzewski went with his shooters in hopes of getting a mismatch in his favor on the offensive end of the floor.

The problem with this move: there was no one on the floor capable of guarding Jerami Grant.

Grant converted multiple dunks in overtime, with Duke ultimately being forced to bring in Marshall Plumlee for a defensive possession. Plumlee played a total of ten minutes, grabbing two rebounds, as neither he nor Josh Hairston have been able to do enough over the course of ACC play to earn a spot in the rotation. And therein lies the problem for this Duke team when it comes to considering their prospects not only within the ACC but also in regards to their national hopes.

Jefferson’s been very good for Duke over the last 14 games, and against Syracuse the sophomore accounted for 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists. At this point it seems safe to assume that he and Parker (15 points, nine rebounds) will be Duke’s most productive front court players for the remainder of the season. But if this team is to entertain any thoughts of climbing back into the ACC race (remember, they get Syracuse at home in three weeks), they need someone else in the front court to step up and earn minutes.

However with this being the case, do they have a third player capable of doing so? Even with this dilemma Duke nearly left the Carrier Dome with a win, so they clearly can make adjustments. But against teams with the ability to exploit this deficiency, Duke will continue to have issues if a Plumlee or Hairston (or both) doesn’t step up in the coming weeks.

In a game as entertaining as this one, it’s tough to pinpoint an area in which the losing team cost itself the game. But there’s no doubt that Duke’s lack of interior depth impacted their strategy in overtime.