Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Duke Continues to Evolve, Seeks Vengeance Against Louisville
By: MIKE McCURRYNEW YORK — The box score from Duke’s nine-point loss at Louisville on January 14th most closely resembles an artifact.
Grayson Allen dropped 23 points and 9 boards. Frank Jackson logged ten minutes. Amile Jefferson was absent, nursing a bruised right foot. Ditto for head coach Mike Krzyzewski and his surgically repaired back.
Flash forward to Wednesday, when Duke secured a 79-72 win over Clemson in the second round of the ACC Tournament, clinching a rematch with Louisville on Thursday in the form of a quarterfinal date (approximately 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Allen recorded 12 scoreless minutes. Jackson, starting in place of Allen for the third straight game, went for 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Jefferson registered a double-double. And Coach K collected his 58th ACC Tournament victory, moving into a tie with Dean Smith for the all-time record.
Will the real Duke Blue Devils please reveal themselves? Or are they, on March 8, still in the midst of finding their identity?
“Crazy as it may sound, I think we’re still evolving because of all the injuries and interruptions we’ve had,” Krzyzewski said. “But we’re getting better.”
There have been few constants in a roller coaster ride of a season for the consensus national preseason favorites. Luke Kennard qualifies, and he overcame a 3-point first half (on 1-of-9 shooting) by exploding for 17 points (on 8-of-11 shooting) in the latter frame against Clemson.
Jayson Tatum, too, has been steady for the most part. Tatum went off to the tune of 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists, joining Jackson and Kennard in the 20-plus point category.
Tatum, pegged by Draft Express as the fourth overall pick this June, is eager to pay Louisville back for that mid-January outcome.
“We just got to look back on what we did wrong,” said Tatum, in regards to exactly how the Blue Devils could return the favor. “We did a lot of things wrong in that game, and they played well obviously. Just see how they’ve grown, and just understand how much we’ve grown from the last time we played them.
But has Duke actually improved over the last two or so months? Or are they just different?
Jackson has really come on of late, averaging 18.3 points on 56 percent shooting over his last four games. His ascent, however, has coincided with Allen’s disappearing act, which can be partially chalked up to a nagging ankle injury but was exacerbated on Wednesday by a 31-second span that saw the junior commit three fouls (including a technical).
“I think the injury is a huge part of it because he has not been able to really go after it in practice, and he’s lost his timing, his rhythm,” said Coach K on Allen.
“We got to get him going, and these guys will help him because they’re good teammates,” he continued. “It wasn’t a good afternoon for him individually.”
Duke’s depth (or lack thereof) presents another concerning change. There is a fine line between running out bodies and possessing serviceable depth. Krzyzewski seems to have abandoned a desire for the latter by only playing Harry Giles (who doesn’t help himself by committing 8 personal fouls per 40 minutes) and Marques Bolden when absolutely necessary.
On Wednesday, it was essentially a five-man rotation, with Jackson, Kennard, Tatum, Jefferson, and Matt Jones all grinding for 30-plus minutes.
Fatigue could be an obvious issue against Rick Pitino and a suffocating Louisville defense that ranks sixth in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Cardinals should be particularly motivated considering their self-imposed postseason ban last year excluded them from participating in the ACC Tournament.
NCAA Tournament seeding is a factor as well. Who’s to say Louisville can’t play its way up to the one-line over the next three days?
“It’s going to be a tough one,” Tatum admitted. “Louisville’s one of the best teams in our conference and the country, hands down. They got great guards, they’re extremely big, and they’re coached by one of the best coaches we have today.”
Duke is seeking vengeance on Thursday. They’re also still in the process of soul-searching, despite Selection Sunday being right around the corner.
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