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Return of Coach K will help Duke

Calvin Stiteley, Sports Team Leader

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One of the most decorated basketball programs in the country has had a rocky start to the 2016-2017 basketball season.

Duke came into this season ranked No. 1 by the AP poll, with the best incoming freshman class in the nation.

This included Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson and Marques Bolden. Many expert analysts believed that this was the team that was going to roll their way to the national title. In addition to the plethora of freshman talent, the Blue Devils were bringing back Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard and Amile Jefferson, who made the highest impact on the floor a season ago.

They started off the season rolling through their non-conference schedule, beating teams such as Michigan State and Florida. They did this without the help of Giles, Tatum, and Bolden. The expectation is that they would dominate once these big men returned.

It was a different story once their conference schedule began. On Dec. 21, they competed against  Elon, winning 72-61. During the game, Allen appeared to intentionally trip a player, his third incident in the past year. He had an absolute meltdown and was later suspended indefinitely for his actions.

Then the unexpected happened. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski, took a leave of absence in order to have back surgery, leaving assistant coach Jeff Capel to take over head coaching duties.

That is where it seemed to go downhill for the Blue Devils. Allen only missed one game for his actions, but the team lost a rough one to Virginia Tech by a score of 89-72.  Over the span of the next six games, the team lost three conference games to Florida State, Louisville and North Carolina State.

The freshmen have not lived up to their potential this season. Poor offensive performing and failure to rebound have been their undoing so far this year. Giles is only averaging five PPG and five RPG, while Bolden has been almost non-existent this season, not even averaging two PPG.

Giles is a player who was projected to be a lottery pick in this year’s upcoming NBA draft, but that seems unlikely at the moment.

Another issue this year has been the lack of a true point guard. Jackson and Allen has transitioned in and out of this role, but both of them are primarily shooting guards. Allen is the only player averaging more than two assists per game.

While Duke is ranked 11th in the country in terms of offensive efficiency this season, they have relied heavily on the performance of Kennard and Tatum this year.

Kennard has proved this year that he is one of the best players in the country as a sophomore, averaging 20 PPG and five RPG. Tatum has recovered from a slow start to the season, now averaging 16 PPG and seven RPG.

After a difficult stretch, the Blue Devils have shown resilience to the criticism and absence of Coach K, winning back to back games against Wake Forest and Notre Dame. Kennard has shown his outstanding scoring abilities yet again, scoring 34 against Wake Forest (including a buzzer beater for win) and 16 against Notre Dame.

Allen has stepped back into his scoring role, scoring 19 against Wake Forest and then 21 against Notre Dame. The good news for the Blue Devils is that Coach K is returning this weekend to take on Pittsburgh at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Duke is starting to play with a sense of urgency now, and the return of Coach K will boost this morale in the locker room even more. They still need to fix some things, as guys such as Giles, Bolden and Jackson need to improve their play.

Assuming Kennard continues his outstanding offensive play, Allen steps back into his traditional scoring role, and players such as Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones continue their solid defensive play, the Blue Devils should be able to make a run at the ACC conference title and the National Championship in early April.

 

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Return of Coach K will help Duke