Duke Blue Devils

DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 06:  Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils directs his team during their game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 88-80.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Coach K hopes to have Harry Giles back ‘before Christmas’

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Duke’s freshman center Harry Giles II is close to returning to the game action, according to head coach Mike Krzyzewski, potentially as soon as Christmas.

“Harry’s participating,” Krzyzewski said, “he hasn’t had as much contact yet. We’re hoping before Christmas, those two games.”

Duke is playing UNLV in Vegas on Saturday, then after a nine-day break for finals, the Blue Devils get Tennessee State and Elon at home on the 19th and the 21st.

Giles warmed up with the Blue Devils on Tuesday night. Giles, who was long considered the top prospect in his class, has torn ACLs in both knees. He had a knee scope in October that has kept him out of action since.

“I don’t want to put a gun to his head, like, ‘You have to do it,'” Coach K said. “I want to see how he does during the exam period with a little more contact, before we go forward.”

No. 5 Duke knocks off No. 21 Florida in the Jimmy V Classic

DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 26:  Luke Kennard #5 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after making a three-point basket against the Appalachian State Mountaineers during the game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on November 26, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK — Luke Kennard is a realist.

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.”

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Duke Blue Devils drives the ball up the court against the Florida Gators in the second half during the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 6, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Jayson Tatum (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

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.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06:  Amile Jefferson #21 of the Duke Blue Devils puts up a shot against the Florida Gators in the second half during the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 6, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Amile Jefferson (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

“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.”

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06:  Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils looks on against the Florida Gators in the second half during the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 6, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Grayson Allen (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Jaysom Tatum, Marques Bolden see first action of the season

DURHAM, NC - DECEMBER 03:  Jayson Tatum #0 of the Duke Blue Devils dribbles the ball against the Maine Black Bears during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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In an otherwise uninteresting non-conference game against an overmatched opponent that was only noteworthy because of the protest the visitors opted to put on, No. 5 Duke somehow managed to find a way to be one of the most relevant stories of the day.

That’s because two of the three freshmen that we’ve been waiting so long to see finally made their debut.

And the NBCSports.com Preseason National Player of the Year found his way to the bench.

Jayson Tatum started and looked rusty, finishing with 10 points and eight boards on 2-for-8 shooting in 20 minutes against the Black Bears after having missed the last five weeks with a foot injury. Marques Bolden came off the bench and chipped in with seven points and five boards in 12 minutes.

Both Tatum and Bolden are potential lottery picks this spring, and Tatum has a chance to be the No. 1 pick in the draft.

Grayson Allen did not suit up for the Blue Devils, but that was expected. He’s been battling a toe injury that has sapped his explosiveness, and if it wasn’t for the fact that seemingly everyone else on the Duke roster was injured, Allen likely would’ve been resting that toe and trying to get healthy sooner. Frank Jackson also say this game out.

Luke Kennard led the way for Duke once again on Saturday, finishing with 35 points in a 94-55 win.

No. 5 Duke pulls away late to beat Michigan State

DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 29:  Lourawls Nairn Jr. #11 of the Michigan State Spartans defends on a drive by Frank Jackson #15 of the Duke Blue Devils during the game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on November 29, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Grayson Allen scored 16 of his 24 points in the second half as No. 5 Duke pulled away from Michigan State down the stretch in a 78-69 win over the Spartans.

Luke Kennard added 20 points for the Blue Devils, who struggled shooting the ball for much of the game as their rotation was limited to just six players. Mike Krzyzewski started four guards – Allen, Kennard, Frank Jackson and Matt Jones – along with Amile Jefferson, while Chase Jeter chipped in with 22 minutes off the bench.

The good news, at least, is that it looks like the Blue Devils are getting closer to being healthy. Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III and Marques Bolden warmed up with the team prior to the game and Tatum was in his jersey on the bench. They’re getting closer.

That matters because the single biggest takeaway from Tuesday night’s game was that neither of these teams are anywhere near their best right now.

Duke’s issues are obvious, and ones that I wrote about in this column: They’re missing three first round picks while a fourth, Allen, is playing through a painful toe injury. On the one hand, all this experience is a good thing for guys like Kennard, Jackson and Jeter. On the other hand, it means that there are going to be some guys that will have to adjust to playing significantly fewer minutes once the stars make their way back.

That’s where we are with Duke, and it’s where we’ve been for the last month.

And Michigan State?

Well, they’re still a team going through the growing pains of being young and losing two senior bigs to knee injuries, just like they were when I wrote this column. They’ve shown flashes – the first half tonight, the first 25 minutes against Wichita State, St. John’s – but they’re still not a finished product.

That will come with time. And practice, which the Spartans will get more of now that they’re insane travel schedule has come to an end. This team will be better in March, just like Duke will.

But for now, this is what we get with these two.

ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Previews, picks and what to watch for

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 25:  Nate Britt #0 of the North Carolina Tar Heels highfives teammate Joel Berry II #2 in the second half against the Indiana Hoosiers during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional at Wells Fargo Center on March 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The ACC/Big Ten Challenge kicks off tonight.

Here is a preview of the 14-game slate.

No. 3 North Carolina at No. 13 Indiana, Weds. 9:15 p.m.

Easily the biggest game of the event, the streaking Tar Heels will make their way to Bloomington to face-off with an Indiana team that has been knocked back after a perfect start to the season. The Hoosiers not only lost to Fort Wayne on the road last week, but they may have lost James Blackmon Jr., the hero in the win over Kansas, to a knee injury. Tom Crean said the injury isn’t serious, but for a team that lacks weapons in the half court, not having Blackmon against the Tar Heels would be a major blow.

Why?

Because North Carolina is playing as well as anyone in college basketball right now. Joel Berry II looks like an all-american, the trio of Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley are averaging 39.0 points and 22.4 boards and the Tar Heels are hitting 39.2 percent from beyond the arc this season. Playing in Bloomington will be by far their biggest test of the season. The Hoosiers are lethal when their threes are going down, and when Assembly Hall is packed to the gills, those threes tend to go down.

  • Prediction: It sounds like Blackmon has a good chance of playing, so I’ll go with Indiana (+4.5) at home.

Michigan State at No. 5 Duke, Tues. 9:30 p.m.

Michigan State has been playing better of late, but this is still a dreadfully young team missing key players and at the end of a long, long three weeks. they’ve been to Hawai’i, New York and the Bahamas already this season, and they will be heading back out to Durham for this one at some point on Monday.

Miles Bridges is playing much better after the trip to the Battle 4 Atlantis than he did against Kentucky at the Garden and Duke, frankly, does not have anyone that can guard him. That said, I think the Blue Devils will be too much, even with Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden and Harry Giles III out and Grayson Allen limited.

  • Prediction: Duke (-11.5) coasts, but keep an eye on the status of Grayson Allen’s toe.

No. 22 Syracuse at No. 17 Wisconsin, Tues. 7:30 p.m.

Two teams trending in the wrong direction. Let’s start with Syracuse, who couldn’t find a way to run offense against South Carolina’s half court pressure. It was not a promising performance from the Orange, who mustered all of 50 points as the issues with their point guard play – Franklin Howard and John Gillon – rose to the surface.

On the other hands, the Badgers are still trying to figure out how they are going to be able to turn Nigel Hayes back into an efficient basketball player. A year after getting criticized for settling for too many threes, Hayes is shooting more three per game at a worse clip than he did last season, just 29.0 percent. Someone’s streak has to snap on Tuesday.

  • Prediction: I think Syracuse wins so of course I’ll take the Orange (+7.5).
SYRACUSE, NY - DECEMBER 02: Ethan Happ #22 of the Wisconsin Badgers drives to the basket as Tyler Lydon #20 of the Syracuse Orange defends during the first half on December 2, 2015 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Ethan Happ (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

No. 15 Purdue at No. 14 Louisville, Weds. 7:15 p.m.

This is a matchup of two very different teams. The Boilermakers want to pound the ball inside, to take advantage of the fact that they have Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan and you don’t. Louisville? They press, they try to force turnovers, they want to speed the game up and take advantage of the talent and athleticism on their perimeter.

There are two keys to this game. 1. Can Louisville’s bigs stay out of foul trouble? The sheer size of Haas and Swanigan got Georgia State into foul trouble and cost them a win in Mackey Arena, and it nearly cost Villanova their win at Purdue. 2. Will Louisville make perimeter shots? Deng Adel and Quentin Snider are shooting under 30 percent from the floor this season. Donovan Mitchell is under 40 percent. That’s not good.

  • Prediction: I’m on Louisville (-5.5) as I think Louisville’s guards overwhel Purdue’s back court and nullify the advantage the Boilermakers have inside.

Ohio State at No. 6 Virginia, Weds. 7:15 p.m.

Virginia is giving up an average of 41.3 points per game through six games. Their opponents are shooting 31.7 percent from the floor and averaging just 0.708 points-per-possession, which is an insane number. The question here is: Can Ohio State break 50 points on the evening?

  • Prediction: I’m going to say take the under (119.5) here. Virginia is a 12-point favorite, meaning the predicted final score is 66-54. The Wahoos haven’t given up more than 52 points this season and are allowing an average of just 41.3 points. Iowa, who put up 92 on Memphis and 78 on Notre Dame, scored 41 points against Virginia. Ohio State, however, has also been pretty good defensively on the season, and the only proven scored Virginia has on their roster is London Perrantes, who isn’t really a scorer. And all that is before you consider Virginia is the slowest team in the country and Ohio State is 185th in pace. If you’re only into betting lines, I’d say take Ohio State (+12).

Virginia Tech at Michigan, Weds. 9:15 p.m.

This is a win the Hokies badly need after they blew a 16-point second half lead to Texas A&M, missing out on their chance to take a swing at UCLA in the Wooden Legacy title game. Buzz Williams has a good team in Blacksburg, one that will improve their NCAA tournament candidacy with a win at Michigan. The Wolverines looked good at the 2K Classic in New York two weeks ago, but took a beating on the road against South Carolina over the weekend.

  • Prediction: I like Virginia Tech (+5), mainly because I’m not convinced Michigan isn’t overrated and I love the Hokies this season.

Monday, Nov. 28

  • Minnesota at Florida State, 7:00 p.m.: This is going to be a nice gauge game for both of these teams. The Seminoles should, in theory, be able to take care of Minnesota at home, but Richard Pitino’s team is sitting at 6-0 on the year with a 14-point win over Arkansas.
  • Wake Forest at Northwestern, 9:00 p.m.: Is this the year that Northwestern makes the tournament? It looked like it in their 19-point win over Texas. Not so much against Butler and Notre Dame. Wake Forest is 5-1 on the year with a couple of decent mid-major wins.

Tuesday, Nov. 29

  • Pittsburgh at Maryland, 7:00 p.m.: Maryland is 7-0 on the season, but five of those seven wins have come by single digits, including late comebacks against Georgetown and Kansas State. What happens when the Terps face off with a good Pitt team?
  • Georgia Tech at Penn State, 7:00 p.m.: Penn State has struggled early on this season while Georgia Tech is … still Georgia Tech under Josh Pastner.
  • Iowa at Notre Dame, 9:00 p.m.: Iowa scored 41 points against Virginia and lost. They got 42 points from Peter Jok the next night … and lost to Memphis. The Irish, coming off of a
    win in the Legends Classic, have looked good this year.
  • N.C. State at Illinois, 9:00 p.m.: Dennis Smith Jr. has been phenomenal of late, but his team is still missing Maverick Rowan (concussion) and Omer Yurtseven (suspension). This is a win they should be able to get.

Wednesday, Nov. 30

  • Rutgers at Miami (Fla.), 7:15 p.m.: Don’t look now but Rutgers is undefeated. This will be their stiffest test of the season to date.
  • Nebraska at Clemson, 9:15 p.m.: I’m still unsure of what to make of either of these teams. Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame is a first round pick.

College Basketball Talk Top 25

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN - NOVEMBER 14:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats goes up for a shot against the Purdue Boilermakers at Mackey Arena on November 14, 2016 in West Lafayette, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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1. Villanova (6-0, Last week No. 1): The Wildcats hold steady at No. 1 this week as they weren’t tested.

2. Kentucky (6-0, 2): The more we watch Michigan State the less impressive that win looks for Kentucky. They’ll get UCLA at home on Saturday. We’ll know a lot more then.

3. Kansas (5-1, 4): The Jayhawks cruised right along with a title in the CBE Classic and a blowout win over UNC Asheville.

4. Duke (6-1, 5): Grayson Allen left a game because his foot was bothering him and it looks like none of the three injured freshmen will be available against Michigan State on Tuesday. We won’t know just how good Duke is for a while longer.

5. North Carolina (7-0, 6): There’s an argument to be made that North Carolina has been the most impressive team in the country this season. They haven’t won a game by fewer than 15 points yet.

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

6. Gonzaga (6-0, 8): The Zags did what we expected them to do, cruising to a title in the Advocare Invitational. It was more difficult against Iowa State than it should have been.

7. Xavier (6-0, 12): The Musketeers are starting to fly a bit under the radar. Their 22-point win over Northern Iowa on Saturday is better than you may realize.

8. Baylor (6-0, 15): The Bears are the only team in the country with four top 40 KenPom wins. they deserve this ranking for now. We’ll see if they can keep this thing rolling all year long.

9. Creighton (6-0, 16): The Bluejays look like one of the nation’s most potent offensive teams once again.

10. Virginia (6-0, 10): The Wahoos, on the other hand, are the nation’s most stingy defensive team.

11. UCLA (8-0, 13)
12. Indiana (5-1, 3)
13. Louisville (5-1, 9)
14. Purdue (5-1, 19)
15. Saint Mary’s (5-0, 21)
16. Wisconsin (5-2, 17)
17. Rhode Island (5-1, 20)
18. South Carolina (6-0, NR)
19. Syracuse (4-1, 14)
20. Maryland (7-0, 22)
21. Cincinnati (5-1, 23)
22. Iowa State (5-1, NR)
23. Michigan (5-1, 22)
24. Butler (6-0, NR)
25. Arizona (5-1, 11)

DROPPED OUT: No. 7 Oregon, No. 18 Virginia Tech, No. 24 Dayton
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 19 South Carolina, No. 22 Iowa State, No. 25 Butler