Duke Blue Devils

LOUISVILLE, KY - JANUARY 11:  Anas Mahmoud #14 of the Louisville Cardinals shoots the ball during the game against the Pittsburgh Panthers at KFC YUM! Center on January 11, 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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No. 14 Louisville knocks off No. 7 Duke, whose slide continues

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Anas Mahmoud had the best game of his collegiate career, finishing with 17 points and 11 boards, and Donovan Mitchell chipped in with 15 points of his own as No. 14 Louisville handed No. 7 Duke their second consecutive loss, 78-69.

Duke jumped out to an early lead on the Cardinals, but Louisville used a 20-5 run late in the half to go ahead 34-30 at the break. The Cardinals did not play great offensively, but they shot 7-for-18 from three and made key jumpers late in both halves to pull away from the Blue Devils.

Grayson Allen led Duke with 23 points and Luke Kennard chipped in with 17, but Duke clearly missed Amile Jefferson – particularly on the defensive end of the floor – and Jayson Tatum shot just 3-for-11 from the field.

Here are four things we learned in Louisville’s win:

1. Anas Mahmoud was awesome: In his fifth game as Louisville’s starting center, Mahmoud had his breakout game. He finished with 17 points, 11 boards, two steals and a block, changing more shots in the lane than I was able to track. His presence in the lineup changes things for the Cardinals on both ends of the floor. On the one hand, he’s probably their best defensive center given his length. He looks like he weighs about 215 pounds, and that is an issue, but what he’s able to bring to the table for the Cardinals defensively – both in rim protection and his ability to switch out onto smaller defenders – is valuable enough to take some risks against stronger opponents.

He’s also a key piece offensively. In prior games, it’s been because of his ability to pass the ball. He’s not a guy that collects a ton of assists, but his ball movement from the low- and high-post lets Louisville’s offense run smoother. On Saturday, however, he point production came as the roll-man in ball-screen actions, which is part of the reason why …

2. … Louisville lit up Duke with ball-screens: This is not the first time this has happened to the Blue Devils this season, and it certainly will not be the last. It’s Duke’s biggest issue on the defensive end of the floor. They are a total mess trying to slow down teams that understand how to execute those actions. In the first half, Mahmoud had four wide-open dunks/layups at the rim because the Blue Devils totally lost track of where he was. At one point in the half, Louisville was 6-for-21 from the floor with three dunks from Mahmoud on alley-oops.

Those were significant baskets. Duke was actually playing well defensively at that point in the game. They were contesting jumpers and limiting penetration, and Louisville’s offense was sputtering as a result. But Duke was never able to extend the lead, meaning that when the Cards did finally get it going, they were able to jump right back into the lead.

3. Duke could not take advantage of Louisville’s switching: Before I go any further, a disclaimer: Louisville is the best defensive team in college basketball and Duke is a team that does not have a point guard on their roster. That said, it is still troubling to see a team with this much talent look this out of sync offensively. They finished with eight assists and 18 turnovers on the day. When they actually were able to score, more often than not it came out of isolations or transition.

The biggest issue, however, was that Duke didn’t have anyone on the block that they could give the ball to that would allow them to take advantage of the fact that Louisville was switching everything. Combine that with the fact that Duke’s guards aren’t quick enough to beat Louisville’s athletic bigs off the dribble, and that offensive performance is what you get.

LOUISVILLE, KY - JANUARY 11:  Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Louisville Cardinals shoots the ball during the game against the Pittsburgh Panthers at KFC YUM! Center on January 11, 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Donovan Mitchell (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

4. Duke is a total mess: There’s really no other way to put it. And there are justifiable reasons for this mess. They’ve played 18 games this season, and only twice were all five members of their ideal starting lineup – Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III and Amile Jefferson – healthy. The three star freshmen all missed at least the first month of the season. Jefferson did not play in their two toughest road games of the year to date, which both came this week. And all of this is going on while Coach K is out recovering from back surgery.

But that doesn’t change the fact that this team is nowhere near where we thought they would be at this point in the season. Giles was away from the game for, essentially, 14 months as he recovered from an ACL surgery on his right knee and an arthroscopic surgery on his already-surgically repaired left knee. Marques Bolden is even further away from contributing; he’s seen both Chase Jeter and Javin DeLaurier vault past his in Duke’s front court depth chart, which is a very troubling sign. Frank Jackson isn’t playing with anywhere near the confidence that he had in the first month of the season, and Tatum looks like he has no understanding of how to play basketball.

In fact, Duke might be a better basketball team with Tatum on the bench right now. The problem with that, however, is that the Blue Devils don’t have the depth to take him off the court. These four guys that came off the bench to play for Duke on Saturday: Jackson, Jeter, Bolden and DeLaurier. As bad as Tatum has been, Duke is better off with him playing than with any of those other four guys playing.

We’ve seen this before. During the 2014-15 season, Duke lost back-to-back games in the middle of January, falling at N.C. State and at home to Miami by 16 points; if you don’t remember that Miami game, it was the game where Angel Rodriguez looked like Chris Paul. Everyone in the world questioned Duke’s ball-screen defense and whether or not a team that had Jahlil Okafor at the five and Tyus Jones at the point would ever be good enough defensively to win a national title.

If you remember, that team eventually earned a No. 1 seed and, during the NCAA tournament, played defense that was on par with 2015 Kentucky’s record-setting defense en route to a national title.

That team didn’t have the injuries this team does. That team also didn’t have to figure everything out with Coach K sidelined. Duke has actually looked better in these last two losses, which came at No. 9 Florida State and at No. 14 Louisville, than they did in a loss at Virginia Tech. There is reason to be cautiously optimistic.

But there is even more reason to think that Duke is simply never going to reach their potential this year.

LOUISVILLE, KY - JANUARY 14:  Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils shoots the ball during the game against the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on January 14, 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Grayson Allen (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Amile Jefferson injures foot in Duke win

DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 07:  Amile Jefferson #21 of the Duke Blue Devils drives against Connar Tava #2 of the Boston College Eagles during the game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 7, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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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.

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski to have surgery

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 16:  Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils walks off the court after losing to the Lehigh Mountain Hawks 75-70 during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum on March 16, 2012 in Greensboro, North Carolina.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski will miss an undetermined number of games as he is scheduled to undergo lower back surgery.

The procedure will remove a fragment of a herniated disk, and the expected recovery time is four weeks. He will coach Wednesday’s game against Georgia Tech before current associate head coach and former Oklahoma head coach Jeff Capel will step in as the interim coach, beginning with Jan. 7th’s game against Boston College. Capel also filled in for Coach K last season when he missed a game against Georgia Tech.

Capel was the point guard for Duke in 1995, when Coach K was forced to missed the second half of the season due to complications from a different back surgery. The Blue Devils went 13-18 that season.

“Dr. William Richardson, Dr. Friedman, and our medical team have worked tirelessly to help manage this issue for several weeks,” said Krzyzewski. “Together, we have determined that surgery is the best course of action at this time. During my recovery process, the team will be in the capable hands of Coach Capel, Coach James and Coach Scheyer. As soon as the doctors clear me to do so, I look forward to returning and giving our team 100% of my energy and attention, which is certainly something that they deserve.”

This is yet another twist in what has been a weird year for the Blue Devils. It started with Duke landing one of the nation’s best recruiting classes before watching all three of their highly-touted newcomers – Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III and Marques Bolden – miss the start of the season through injury.

After Luke Kennard and Amile Jefferson carried the team to terrific start in their absence, the Blue Devils struggled against Elon and Tennessee State before Christmas and followed that up by getting pasted in their ACC opener at Virginia Tech over the weekend.

They are also still dealing with the fallout of Grayson Allen’s latest tripping incident. Allen is still indefinitely suspended from competition, and that is just the beginning of what is currently ailing Duke.

Duke’s season is at a crossroads. For a team that looked to be the heavy favorite to win the title as recently as Dec. 10th, this has been quite the turn of events.

College Basketball Talk Top 25: Villanova is the new No. 1

Villanova head coach Jay Wright shouts instructions to his team during the first half of N NCAA college basketball game against Miami in the regional semifinals of the men's NCAA Tournament in Louisville, Ky., Thursday, March 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley
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1. Villanova (14-0, Last Week: No. 2): It feels like what Villanova is doing this season is still flying under the radar despite the fact that they are undefeated and the No. 1 team in the country while staking claim as the reigning national champions.

2. UCLA (14-1, 3): UCLA lost on the road on a game-winner with 0.7 seconds left to a team that I now have in the top ten, a team that was in the preseason top five before we realized that Dillon Brooks, who is now healthy and mowing down opponents, wasn’t at 100 percent to start the year. I’m not concerned in the least.

3. Kansas (12-1, 4): The Jayhawks survived a scrappy TCU team in their Big 12 opener thanks to a punishing performance from center Landen Lucas. He has suddenly turned into the most important player on the Kansas team now that Udoka Azubuike is out for the year with a wrist injury.

4. Kentucky (11-2, 5): Kentucky put together their most complete performance on the season last week when they beat Ole Miss in Oxford. Isaiah Briscoe put up a triple-double, Bam Adebayo played his best game of the season and Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox did the things that Monk and Fox do.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

5. Duke (12-2, 1): So what do we do with the Blue Devils? I’m still in the camp that says that Duke has the highest ceiling of any team in the country, and I also think we’ve underrated just how good Virginia Tech is this season; the Hokies would be undefeated right now if they hadn’t choked away a loss to Texas A&M in the Wooden Legacy semifinals. This isn’t like Duke going to Boston College and taking a beating.

But Duke still took a beating, and the biggest concern was that the Blue Devils seemed to lack the effort and the intensity to make the plays they needed to make defensively. They almost looked selfish offensively, as the lack of a point guard on that roster was glaring. They played without Grayson Allen, who was serving the first game of his suspension, but the issues Duke had on display were much bigger than Allen.

Put another way, Saturday made me think that Duke may not ever get to their ceiling. But hey, at least Harry Giles III finally scored a point.

(UPDATE: And now Coach K will miss up to a month to recover from back surgery.)

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6. Gonzaga (14-0, 8): The Bulldogs were pushed by both Pacific and Pepperdine this week, but came out unscathed with double-digit wins. There is a real chance that Gonzaga could head into Moraga on Feb. 11th as the lone undefeated team in college basketball.

7. Baylor (14-0, 9): The Bears keep rolling along. On Saturday, they opened up Big 12 play by mollywhopping Oklahoma in Norman. It is going to be fun when the Bears get together with Kansas this season, on Feb. 1st and Feb. 18th.

8. Wisconsin (12-2, 11): While Indiana lost twice last week and Purdue dropped a home game to Minnesota, the Badgers continue to roll along. Since Nigel Hayes made the change to being a point forward, the Badgers have looked like a totally different team.

9. Louisville (12-2, 7): Outside of Duke, Louisville is the hardest team in this poll to rank. They beat Kentucky, but they beat Kentucky by three in a game they were favored by two on their home floor, the same home floor where they were smacked around by Virginia just five days ago. But then the Cardinals turned around and gave Indiana a similar whooping in Indiana. Wherever you have them ranked, here’s what you need to admit: the Cards are, right now, as good as, if not better than any team in the ACC.

10. Oregon (13-2, 21): Oregon vaults up to No. 10 in our poll for one, simple reason: they’re back.

11. West Virginia (12-1, 12)
12. North Carolina (12-3, 6)
13. Creighton (13-1, 10)
14. Florida State (14-1, 25)
15. Virginia (11-2, 18)
16. Xavier (12-2, 16)
17. Saint Mary’s (12-1, 17)
18. Arizona (14-2, 22)
19. Cincinnati (13-2, 20)
20. Butler (12-2, 13)
21. Purdue (12-3, 14)
22. Virginia Tech (12-1, UR)
23. Notre Dame (12-2, 23)
24. USC (14-1, 19)
25. Indiana (10-4, 15)

DROPPED OUT: No. 24 Seton Hall
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 22 Virginia Tech

Duke’s loss to Virginia Tech proves they have more issues than just Grayson Allen

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 16:  Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils walks off the court after losing to the Lehigh Mountain Hawks 75-70 during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum on March 16, 2012 in Greensboro, North Carolina.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Losing was inevitable.

In a league where Virginia can win at Louisville three days before losing at home to Florida State, in a league where a bottom-feeder like Georgia Tech can pick off a top ten team like North Carolina, in a league where it wouldn’t be crazy to see ten teams get to the NCAA tournament, we knew that Duke was going to get picked off a time or two – or three, or four – before March got mad.

It was always going to happen.

Conference road trips are the most miserable place to be in college basketball, and Duke was never going to get through nine of them unscathed.

We all could see that coming.

But did you see this coming?

A trip to Blacksburg ending with an 89-75 drubbing, a game where the final score doesn’t do justice to the control that Buzz Williams’ club had on the game? (Before I continue this, a disclaimer: Virginia Tech is very good. They are top 25 good. They are Sweet 16 good. The Hokies won this game, and may have done so even if Duke played well.)

In the first game of Grayson Allen’s suspension stemming from his third tripping incident in 2016, No. 5 Duke went scoreless or the first four minutes, dug themselves a double-digit hole before the second TV timeout and spent 40 minutes getting totally and completely outplayed by Virginia Tech. If it wasn’t for a 34-point effort from Luke Kennard, who was the only Blue Devil that decided to show up on New Year’s Eve, the final score would have looked much worse.

Duke missed Allen.

But this loss had nothing to do with the absence of Allen and everything to do with the fact that this Duke team is not what the sums of its parts says it should be. That doesn’t mean that they can’t get there, it doesn’t mean that they can’t win a national title this season, but it does mean that, as of today, Duke is not a very good basketball team.

What’s wrong with them?

PITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 28:  Luke Kennard #5 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after losing 76-62 to the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Petersen Events Center on February 28, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Luke Kennard (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Let’s start with their defense, which was awful against Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils gave up 1.235 points-per-possession to Virginia Tech. The Hokies were able to penetrate at will on Saturday, and the rim protection that was supposed to be provided by the health of Harry Giles III and Marques Bolden simply wasn’t there. That side of the ball has been an issue with recent Duke teams, including 2014-15, when Duke’s defense during the NCAA tournament covered up the fact that it was a mess for most of the regular season.

It wasn’t just half court defense on Saturday, either; the Hokies got layup-after-layup in transition.

They also have plenty of issues on the offensive end of the floor, where Duke’s possessions would eventually devolve into one of their guards trying to beat a Hokie defender one-on-one. Much of that credit has to be given to Virginia Tech, who proved themselves a top 25-caliber team that will be a factor in the ACC this season, but it’s certainly worrisome that a team with this kind of talent had that kind of trouble against anyone.

Because youth can no longer be an excuse for Duke. Yes, it took a while for them to get Giles, Bolden and Jayson Tatum healthy, but the latter two have been back in the mix for a month while it’s been three weeks since Giles missed a game. Duke has played just twice since they beat Florida, 84-74, in the Jimmy V Classic on Dec. 10th. They’ve had plenty of opportunities to get the newcomers up to speed.

So what is it?

Leadership? There isn’t an alpha-dog on this roster, and when the junior captain (well, ex-captain) is continuously tripping people and having on-bench meltdowns, it’s fair to wonder just who is the voice in the locker room that holds teammates accountable, the voice that the freshmen listen to.

Because that seems to be a problem as well. After the Elon game, Luke Kennard told reports that “I just don’t think we’re a very unselfish team right now.” It’s hard to convince players that expect to be one-and-done stars to play into a role, especially when that role is limited. Just because John Calipari makes it look easy doesn’t mean it is.

But that’s all speculative.

It’s also fixable, or at least it should be.

Because Duke’s ceiling is higher than anyone else’s ceiling.

But it’s time to start being concerned about whether or not they will ever actually get there.

Four Takeaways from Virginia Tech’s win over No. 5 Duke

Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams celebrates a play in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP) LOCAL STATIONS OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT; LOCAL PRINT OUT (SALEM TIMES REGISTER; FINCASTLE HERALD; CHRISTIANSBURG NEWS MESSENGER; RADFORD NEWS JOURNAL; ROANOKE STAR SENTINEL; MANDATORY CREDIT
(Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP)
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Virginia Tech picked up a potential signature victory as they took advantage of Grayson Allen’s suspension and ran past No. 5 Duke for a 89-75 home ACC win.

The Hokies jumped out to a big early lead that turned into 47-31 by halftime as they were never seriously threatened in the second half. The Blue Devils were playing without Allen — the junior Player of the Year candidate who was suspended indefinitely following his third tripping incident in a win over Elon — for the first time and the 10-day layoff, a tough road game and the conference opener all combined for an ugly effort.

Here are four things we learned from this game.

1. Duke still has to figure out its defense: The biggest takeaway from this game is that Duke’s defense needs to improve a lot in order from them to win the national championship. While Duke’s offense suffered without Grayson Allen, its defense was completely atrocious in allowing Virginia Tech looks from all over the floor.

Perimeter defenders were getting blown by and big men weren’t protecting at the rim — a total failure that led to Virginia Tech shooting 55 percent from the field and 61 percent from three-point range.

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Allen’s return to the lineup should obviously help with some of the perimeter problems but the bigger issue here is Duke’s glaring lack of a rim protector. Amile Jefferson is more of a rebounder and best suited with a big man next to him while freshmen like Marques Bolden and Harry Giles are just returning from injury. Bolden can wall up and be a presence, but he’s never been noted as a plus shot blocker, while Giles is at his best as a rebounder.

We can’t expect Duke to just develop a rim protector overnight — although that can improve a bit — but they can get better at preventing guards from just coasting to the bucket. And this entire Duke team can also stand to be more physical on the defensive end.

2. Virginia Tech picked up a signature victory: Buzz Williams didn’t exactly put his team through a rigorous non-conference schedule leading up to this point, but it doesn’t matter now, as the Hokies have a win over a potential No. 1 seed.

While Virginia Tech had only a road win at Michigan to show for its non-conference schedule, this win should certainly give the Hokies a lot of momentum. The key for this team securing a NCAA tournament bid could come in the next few games. If Virginia Tech is able to split its next four games (at N.C. State, at Florida State, Syracuse, Notre Dame) then it will be off to a solid start heading into a winnable home game against Georgia Tech.

You wouldn’t think of Blacksburg as a place you wouldn’t want to play but the Hokies have knocked off three top-10 opponents at home over the last calendar year.

3. Duke’s freshmen are still adjusting to the college game: We heard so much about Duke’s freshmen class entering this season and they’re finally all seeing the floor as we begin conference play (even seldom-talked-about forward Jack White got minutes for Duke in the Virginia Tech loss…).

But this talented group still has adjustments to make as we enter the tough part of the schedule. After the hot start, guard Frank Jackson was only 3-for-9 from the field for six points in the Virginia Tech loss while Jayson Tatum (18 points, seven rebounds) picked it up after a slow shooting start.

Harry Giles showed some flashes in finishing with four points and six rebounds (the offensive putback, in particular, was a classic Giles play when he was healthy as he has such a natural gift of timing on offensive putbacks) but he doesn’t have the wind or confidence to be relied on yet.

Marques Bolden contributed three rebounds off the bench and didn’t provide any rim protection when Duke desperately needed some.

Tatum and Jackson will be aided by Allen’s return and Giles and Bolden will get more comfortable as they get more healthy and active but this Duke team is still going to need a lot from its veterans to make a title run.

4. Virginia Tech’s balance is tremendous: The Hokies don’t have one-and-done, five-star prospects or a lot of pro prospects. They’re not going to get the hype of certain teams because their own conference is littered with teams that have both.

But the Hokies are filled with confidence and aggressive players who perfectly embody what Buzz Williams likes out of his teams. Williams has multiple guards who can attack and make plays in Seth Allen, Justin Robinson and Justin Bibbs while Chris Clarke has become a versatile double-double threat who is one of the toughest players in the ACC. Ahmed Hill is a valuable slasher while Zach LeDay is underrated on the interior.

I just named six talented players for the Hokies and any of those guys can lead them to victory. If all six of them finish in double-figures — as the Hokies did in the win against Duke — that’s when Virginia Tech can hang with any team in the country. This team is going to get plenty of battles in the ACC and they’ll be equipped to handle most of them because of this team’s unique toughness and balance.