There’s a sense among some fans that Duke’s season is in terrible danger. To which we can only say: dude, please.
Certainly the Virginia Tech game wasn’t fun. And as Coach K himself said, Duke has played poorly for three straight games.
And yes, Grayson Allen is still suspended and it’s open-ended.
So things aren’t perfect or ideal. So when are they ever?
In 1990, the late Phil Henderson ripped certain of his teammates as “babies. “
In 1991, Duke got trashed in the finals of the ACC Tournament. That team had Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill.
The next year, Hurley and Hill both had serious ankle injuries.
In 2011, a team that might have gone undefeated lost Kyrie Irving for all but seven games.
Mercer. Lehigh. Near upsets by Davidson and Vermont.
Things happen. Duke has lost players and taken serious beatings before.
The biggest difference right now is the injuries. Here’s a list of everyone who has been injured this year:
- Harry Giles
- Jayson Tatum
- Marques Bolden
- Chase Jeter
- Javin DeLaurier
- Matt Jones
- Frank Jackson
- Sean Obi
Or to put it in reverse, here are the guys who haven’t been injured:
- Luke Kennard
- Amile Jefferson
- Antonio Vrankovic
- Jack White
- Nick Pagliuca
- Justin Robinson
- Brendan Besser
Or to really boil it down to brass tacks:
- Luke Kennard
- Amile Jefferson
It’s pretty much impossible to establish a lot with that level of injury, but even in the Virginia Tech game you could see some things.
First, Kennard has become a tremendous player. He just knows how to play; he gets the game better than just about anyone else on his team (Matt Jones arguably is as sophisticated).
Jones has a huge impact on this team. We’ve seen several times when he visibly kicks it up a notch with the clear intention of kicking his team in the pants. It usually works.
And Jefferson has become a huge factor for Duke. He’s become a tremendous rebounder and a reliable scorer inside.
And Allen? Well we’ll have to wait and see. We don’t know more than you do but our guess is that they want him to prove himself. A lot of people online seem to think that they’ll rush him back after the Virginia Tech game, but not us. He’s not playing again until he’s proven he deserves to.
That’s not easy. It’s one thing to say you’re sitting for three games; it’s another to say come back when you’re ready.
A set suspension is passive. This way is much more difficult and the idea that it’s a dodge is stupid.
Allen at his best will help but his lack of self-control certainly hasn’t. There’s a question that hasn’t really been asked, which is this: what would happen if it happened again?
It wouldn’t be pretty.
So we’re pretty sure that whatever happens, it won’t be as quick as some think, a notion supported by his removal as team captain.
Duke’s system is built on trust and honesty and he’s veered away from that. So while he could surprise people and come back quickly, we’re not expecting it.
And after the Virginia Tech loss, Coach K said this: “He should be on the floor if he does the right things, but he didn’t do the right things, so he wasn’t on the floor. That’s the way it is.”
Kennard had made some criticisms of his teammates, saying that not everyone was completely putting we over me (we’re paraphrasing liberally).
After Virginia Tech, his veteran teammates had said similar things. Matt Jones: “We just didn’t come out with energy. They came in and hit us in the mouth, and we weren’t able to respond like we should have.”
There was a lot of criticism of Duke’s defense and fairly so yet that misses a key point.
We’ve talked about how Duke has three systems: offense, defense and communication.
Our suspicion is that Duke is focusing on the third system as much as the first two. It would explain a lot, including possibly Kennard’s comments.
And this could be Allen’s biggest failing. As an upperclassman on a young team, he’s expected to set an example, to uphold Duke’s traditions and pass them on. As gifted as he is, he didn’t do that.
It’s one thing to have young players who have to figure things out. It’s much more difficult when an older player does. That’s called a monkey wrench.
As for the younger players, things will continue to improve. Jackson has already proven himself; he’s just been set back by injury. He’ll be fine as his ankle improves.
One of the most encouraging things about the Virginia Tech game was seeing more from Giles. He’s clearly not timid about shooting and he latched on to a couple of rebounds like he had velcro on his hands. Duke turned to him relatively quickly too, which suggests that he’s improving in practice.
And we saw Bolden grab three offensive rebounds in one possession.
Look, this is a young team with a lot of disruption, some unavoidable (injuries) and some which should have been avoided (Allen).
It’s going to take some time and some work. But they’ll get there. Certainly it’s a bit early to panic.