Duke is probably just fine. The Blue Devils haven’t lost in over a month, winning 10-straight games. Their highly-touted freshmen – Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden and Harry Giles – are are healthy. Luke Kennard is in the national player of the year conversation.
But something doesn’t seem totally right with NBC Sports’ top-ranked team.
The Blue Devils have struggled to get by Tennessee State earlier this week and Elon on Wednesday, Giles and Bolden are seeing minimal minutes and, perhaps most concerning, Grayson Allen had yet another tripping incident, this one followed by as intense a meltdown on the bench that I can remember seeing in some time.
First, let’s discuss Allen’s penchant for tripping dudes. It’s truly amazing for a player of his caliber to continue to keep doing stuff like that. It’s almost as if it’s a defense or coping mechanism for him when he’s frustrated.
The first documented instance came last year against Louisville, immediately after he fell to the ground after missing a layup. Then against Florida State, he was even more malicious when he stuck his foot out behind him to slip up Xavier Rathan-Mayes. The latest came when he got called for a foul in a surprisingly competitive game against Elon.
Yet another boneheaded and dangerous move by Allen, who apologized for it after the game, is troublesome, but his seeming inability to deal with the immediate aftermath is what’s really noteworthy here.
I’m not really sure how to process what’s going on here with Allen, who was NBC Sports’ preseason player of the year. Is he upset with himself? Is he mad at the officials? The situation? Something else? Whatever exactly is going on there, it’s a total and complete loss of emotional control in a very public setting.
Maybe Allen knew what was coming for him the next time he checked his phone or opened up his laptop. My twitter mentions were a mess after simply posting the video, I can’t imagine the type of vitriol that was awaiting Allen, and he’s smart enough to know what vilification was coming.
It’s hard not to feel bad for a college kid being the target of so much anger and dislike, but it’s impossible to forget that most – if not all – of this is Allen’s doing by continuing to act on the basketball court in a way everyone knows not to. “Don’t trip people” isn’t a hard concept to understand or execute.
Mike Krzyzewski sat Allen after the play and to start the second half, but later re-inserted him into the game. I’d guess that’s a pretty strong signal Coach K probably may not entertain suspension talk about Allen, but he should. His words after the game suggested that a suspension is far from a given.
“I handle things the way I handle them,” Krzyzewski said, “and I think I’ve handled this correctly, and moving forward I will continue to handle it correctly, and I don’t need to satisfy what other people think I should do.
“And I’m a teacher and a coach, and I’m responsible for that kid. So 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.”
If a suspension doesn’t come from Krzyzewski, the ACC should step in. Three instances of this type of behavior warrants sitting a player for a game. At this point it’s hard to argue these are incidental instances and as such, there should be repercussions. It might not be a bad thing for Allen to catch his breath, either.
Whatever the state of Allen’s psyche or footwork, the rest of the Blue Devils aren’t without issues, either.
First off, Giles and Bolden are getting limited run despite being cleared to play. Giles played 4 minutes in his debut Monday and 6 against Elon. Are those low numbers a product of Duke being cautious with him after yet another knee surgery after two ACL tears? Is it something else? Bolden has been back from injury for five games, but hasn’t reached double-digit minutes three times, including the 3 minutes he played this night.
For Duke to be as good as we think they can be, Giles and Bolden need to be contributors. The Blue Devils can be extremely good and maybe even great without them, but they may be invincible with them.
It could be it’s just a late December swoon. Between finals and the holidays, attention to detail can certainly wane for any college team, and few are under the microscope Duke is.
“Everybody, they’re not bought in,” Kennard said. “They’re not all the way consumed in winning. Everybody’s not consumed in just being one.”
That microscope magnifies issues that may indeed be small and stay small, but it also reveals blemishes that sometimes grow into more.