Duke’s depth has already started to pay off, regardless of how much coach Mike Krzyzewski will use it.
Known for six- or seven-man rotations, Krzyzewski has already tested several different lineups amid unforeseen injuries and against small opponents, as seen through two exhibition games.
Three five-star freshmen from Duke’s top-ranked rookie class sat out of the Nov. 4 exhibition finale against South Dakota’s Augustana, and the Blue Devils still managed to score 98 points, maintain an efficient defense and outrebound the Vikings 59-26.
The Blue Devils, who finished 25-11 last season after falling to Oregon in the Sweet 16, were outrebounded in the first half of their first exhibition game against Virginia State on Oct. 28, so they used the second game to address that.
“That’s something we’ve been working on with Amile (Jefferson) and Chase (Jeter),” Krzyzewski said. “We have to really concentrate on that.”
Duke, the ACC favorite picked first in both the USA Today and AP preseason polls, will again deploy a point-guard-by-committee look. Five players, including Jefferson, brought the ball up through the pair of exhibition contests. It could be Frank Jackson. Or Grayson Allen. Or Matt Jones. Or Luke Kennard.
This will be the first time in Krzyzewski’s tenure at Duke that he’ll use all of its scholarships, as there are 13 scholarship players.
There were a few instances last season when Duke could have used some depth in the front court. Forward graduate student Jefferson, the team’s best rebounder, was sidelined with a foot injury in December, which left a void on the boards. Duke is 25-2 when the graduate student leads the team in rebounds.
We just make sure the young guys know even if it doesn’t start off the way they want in the beginning of the year, anything can happen.
This season, however, he’ll be complemented by Marques Bolden (6-11, 245) and sophomore Jeter (6-10, 230). Bolden showcased his rebounding power against Virginia State, totaling 11 boards. He finished with 13 points and five blocks in 25 minutes, doubling his rebound total after halftime.
Against Augustana, forward Bolden was rested since the Vikings are a small team. Jayson Tatum (6-8, 205) was nursing a foot sprain. Harry Giles (6-10, 240) was still recovering from a knee scope and will likely make his first appearance with Duke at the end of the month.
Despite the injuries to the three five-star freshmen, the Blue Devils have options this season.
Like when the 6-6, 202-pound Kennard played a 20-minute half against Virginia State.
Or when Augustana saw four Duke guards or four bigs, respectively, on the court at one time. All but three active Blue Devils played at least 13 minutes against Augustana.
“We just make sure the young guys know even if it doesn’t start off the way they want in the beginning of the year, anything can happen,” the 6-5, 204-pound Jones said. “It’s a long year. Knowing that when your number’s called, that’s your time to let what you have inside of you out. I know we need everybody in order to win.”
The last three Duke championship teams have seen five or six guys play every single game. Quinn Cook, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones, Jefferson, Matt Jones and Marshall Plumlee were the six players from the 2015 title crew to see action in all 39 games. Allen was a freshman who played in 35 games but was a key contributor in the postseason. He holds a career average of 11.2 points in NCAA tournament games.
Krzyzewski likes the combination of returning starters Allen, Duke’s 2015-16 leading scorer (21.6 PPG, second in the ACC) and this year’s preseason ACC player of the year, Jefferson, the team’s top rebounder, and Matt Jones, Duke’s prime defender who had six steals against Augustana, with a highly-touted rookie class. The potential that combo may have remains a mystery as Duke hasn’t had a chance to blend in Giles.
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan
Marist at Duke
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham
TV: ACC Network Extra