Duke missed the production of veterans Grayson Allen and Amile Jefferson on Saturday in its 55-50 loss to Miami, the Blue Devils’ second-straight loss after falling to Syracuse earlier in the week. It also missed their influence on the offensive end.
Allen missed the game with an ankle injury while the foot problem that sidelined Jefferson for a pair of games in January continues to be an issue and limited to minor second-half minutes Saturday. Without the pair, Duke shot 31.8 percent from the floor and had 13 turnovers against the Hurricanes.
Both players will be re-evaluated before Tuesday’s home contest against Florida State, but Jefferson’s injury would appear to be the most concerning given it has lingered for well over a month now.
“I’ve got to make a decision with Amile,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s not running. He is not running at all.”
Duke could likely make it work in the short term if it was short just one of the Allen-Jefferson duo, but without both it stresses the ballhandling, playmaking and inexperienced frontcourt all at the same time. Luke Kennard was the only Blue Devil to crack double figures scoring against the ‘Canes while freshmen Marques Bolden and Harry Giles, who both have had their injury issues, were relatively ineffective in player fewer than 20 minutes apiece. Both Kennard and Jayson Tatum played a full 40.
At the start of the season, Duke had the look of a juggernaut, but given the multitude of issues they’ve faced seemingly from the jump, it has a bit of a slog with only a seven-game winning streak to have eased their pain all year.
What made the Blue Devils look so formidable before the season was their sheer level of talent. With Allen and Jefferson ailing, the move for Krzyzewski might be to just bet on that talent in the NCAA tournament rather than jockey for seeding position. He could keep Jefferson and Allen on the shelf as they heal, give Giles and Bolden a ton of run and then just make a go of it in the Big Dance, betting on the talent overcoming the inconsistency of the season.
Like Krzyzewski said about Jefferson, he’s got a decision to make.
Four Takeaways from Virginia Tech’s win over No. 5 Duke
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.
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.
VIDEO: Coach K joins the Dan Patrick Show to discuss Grayson Allen
The biggest question for the Blue Devils moving forward isn’t going to be how many games Grayson Allen gets suspended.
They don’t play again until New Year’s Eve, a trip to Blacksburg to face a good Virginia Tech team. Then they get the two worst teams in the ACC, Georgia Tech and Boston College, at home before a trip to Florida State. It’s not until the fifth game of the season, a visit to Louisville on January 14th, that Duke will get their first major test of the ACC season.
If I had to set the over/under on how many games Allen will get suspended, I would set it at 2.5 … and take the under. I’d be shocked if his suspension lasted until Duke’s trip to Tallahassee, which means that, at worst, the Blue Devils would come out of this with a 2-1 record. They could still win the ACC title. It certainly wouldn’t hurt their national title chances much.
And that’s assuming that Allen is a piece that Duke cannot live without, which is certainly not the case. The Blue Devils are 11-1 on the season, their only loss coming to Kansas on a buzzer-beater, and they’ve done it with Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III and Allen all missing time. Luke Kennard is playing like an all-american. Amile Jefferson is playing like an all-american. There are enough weapons on this team to get to a Final Four if Allen spends the rest of the season on the shelf.
No, the biggest question for Duke is going to be which Grayson Allen returns, and whether or not he’s going to be able to A) handle the criticism leveled at him stemming from his latest tripping incident and B) provide the leadership that a struggling Duke team needs.
And yes, Duke is struggling.
They trailed Tennessee State midway through the second half on Monday. They trailed Elon at halftime. They won those games by a combined 21 points. They were favored by a combined 53.5 points.
The problem, according to Luke Kennard, is selfishness.
“These last two games, we struggled in all sorts of aspects of the game,” Kennard told the Fayetteville Observer. “I just don’t think we’re a very unselfish team right now. And that’s both offensively and defensively. We’ve just got to figure out who we’re going to be.”
“Everybody … they’re not bought in,” Kennard added. “They’re not all the way consumed in winning. Everybody’s not consumed in just being one. It’s not in a bad way at all. I’m just saying, in our minds, some of us have, we just want to be inside of ourselves. Especially when we hit adversity, we want to try to take over the game or we want to try and make the big play and sometimes it’s not the right play. It’s happened constantly throughout these past couple games.”
In other words, Duke lacks a clearly defined leader. There are too many alphas on a roster that lacks a true point guard. When Duke needs a bucket, there are too many guys on the roster that decide it’s their time to go 1-on-1, to try to takeover. That’s what they do. It’s what they’ve done the entire time they’ve been a basketball player. It’s how their wired.
What they need is a veteran that can handle the responsibility that comes with being the primary ball-handler, with being a distributor, with being a leader. That guy was supposed to be Allen. We all heard about how much work he had put in at being a lead guard during the summer and in the preseason. This was when it was supposed to pay off. This is when they need him.
So what will Allen be when he returns to Duke from winter break? He averaged 21.6 points, 4.6 boards and 3.5 assists last season while shooting 41.6 percent from three. He was awesome. He scored three points on 1-for-8 shooting last night and was a non-entity when he returned to the game after the trip.
He’s is, officially, Duke’s difference-maker now.
Can he handle the onslaught of criticism he’s going to get from now until football kicks off on Christmas Eve? Does he have the mental fortitude to be able to carry the weight of this baggage? Will he be tough enough to deal with the fact that he himself is the only one that carries any blame for his evolution into being college basketball’s most notorious villain?
Allen is a 21-year old man. He threw a temper tantrum on the bench last night. But if a 21-year old man is throwing temper tantrums, it’s fair to wonder where or not he’s mentally ready to handle the role Duke needs him to play.
Grayson Allen deserves the scorn, but also the pity, empathy
Before I say anything else, let me just state the obvious: Grayson Allen needs to be suspended.
After he intentionally tripped Elon’s Steven Santa Ana on Wednesday night, the third time in the 2016 calendar year that Allen has intentionally tripped an opponent, there is no option here.
He needs to be suspended. He needs to miss basketball games. He was let off with a reprimand and warning after the second incident last season, when he stuck his right leg out to trip Florida State’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes just 17 days after he used that same heel to send Louisville’s Ray Spalding sprawling, and unless the ACC follows up a reprimand with a REPRIMAND WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS TO SHOW THEY MEAN BUSINESS, the league has only one choice.
“I handle things the way I handle them, and I think I’ve handled this correctly, and moving forward I will continue to handle it correctly,” Krzyzewski told reporters after the game. “I don’t need to satisfy what other people think that I should do.”
“I’m a teacher and a coach, and I’m responsible for that kid. I know him better than anybody. So to think that it’s the last thing said about this to him is wrong. Obviously we will do more. Doesn’t mean you have to see it, or anybody else has to see it, but what he did tonight was right. That’s what people do. They say they’re sorry. They accept responsibility.”
If K is “a teacher and a coach,” and he’s “responsible for that kid,” then he would not be accepting the responsibility that comes with that job if he were to pass the onus for the suspension onto the ACC.
“Grayson apologized, and he should,” Krzyzewski said. After the game, Santa Ana and Allen met, with Allen apologizing and the two reportedly shaking hands and ending things amicably. Allen was also in tears as he apologized to the media congregated at Greensboro Coliseum. “It’s not something you should do, and he got punished.”
That’s where this thing has nuance.
Because Allen didn’t really get punished. He was pulled from the game late in the first half for the trip, and he was benched for the start of the second half. But he got back into the game. He played quite a few second half minutes, which may have been due to the fact that Duke actually found themselves in a fight against an inferior opponent for the second time in three days. So is it really a punishment if you need to use the guy to help secure a win?
Put another way, pulling someone from the starting lineup is a perfectly valid punishment for a player that is five minutes late to a film session or a kid that skips a history class, not a player that intentionally tripped an opponent for the third time.
There needs to be a suspension. If a traffic cop catches you speeding after he lets you off with a warning, you’re getting a ticket. Allen needs to sit for at least Duke’s ACC opener against Virginia Tech, and if Coach K won’t be the one to do it, the ACC and commissioner John Swofford have to be.
Allen grew up a Duke basketball fan in an area of Florida that is full-blooded SEC football. He committed to Duke as soon as he got an offer from the Blue Devils. He went to Duke because it was his dream school and he returned to Duke as a junior because he wanted to have a legacy; as a Duke graduate, as a two-time national champion, as a National Player of the Year.
And he will leave Duke with a legacy: a tripper, a dirty player, a cheap-shot artist. That’s what he is now going to be remembered for. Christian Laetter, J.J. Redick, Grayson Allen. There’s no way around it, but the difference is that Allen isn’t wired like those two. He’s not a guy that relishes being Public Enemy No. 1. He doesn’t want to be the villain. He wants to be liked. He’d be happier hooping anonymously. This might be too much to come back from.
But that fantasy is out the window.
Allen will have earned every bit of scorn, derision and contempt he gets over the coming days and weeks. He may even deserve it; knowing what he went through last year, I cannot imagine how or why he let this happened again, and there’s nothing to say to defend it.
But just because Allen was in the wrong doesn’t mean I have to enjoy watching him go through what he’s been through and what he’s about to go through.
And that doesn’t mean I can’t have empathy for a person that is coming to grips with the reality that he just set his dreams on fire.