Duke has been one of the most interesting college basketball teams this season and not because the one-loss Blue Devils are favorites to compete for the national championship.
Truth is, between injuries and Grayson Allen’s suspension, No. 5 Duke (12-1) has had its share of drama in the first half of the season as the ACC schedule begins on Saturday at Virginia Tech (11-1).
The Blue Devils have dealt with – and are still overcoming – a bizarre barrage of injuries their highly-touted freshmen class. Forward Harry Giles had minor surgery on his left knee in early October and missed the first 11 games. He has played a total of 10 minutes in Duke’s past two games.
Forward Jayson Tatum sprained his left foot in a preseason practice and was out until early December. Since his return, the 6-8 freshman has averaged 15.4 points and 7.6 rebounds. Forward Marques Bolden hurt his lower leg and debuted alongside Tatum against Maine on Dec. 3. Five of Duke’s six freshmen have been injured and some of the veterans have dealt with minor injuries at some point this season.
And then there’s Allen. Oh yeah, he was slowed by injuries but he got suspended indefinitely for intentionally tripping an opponent, his third incident in this calendar year. The first two happened last February. So, now, Duke will start ACC season without the star junior guard.
“We just have to come back to practice hard and you’re going to have 18 really tough games,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said after Duke’s win over Elon, the night before suspending Allen.
Here’s a look at some memorable moments so far this season, as a new year waits around the corner:
16. A ‘spectacular 2-point performance’
Senior guard Matt Jones went 1-of-7 against Michigan State but led a big defensive stand against the visiting Spartans in this year’s ACC-Big Ten Challenge game. He posted four steals to accompany four assists.
15. Chase Jeter’s injury
The sophomore big, wincing in sheer pain, went down early in Duke’s 78-68 win over Penn State on Nov. 19 in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off tournament in Uncasville, Conn. His foot injury forced a change in the starting lineup.
14. The return of Amile Jefferson
Nine games into the 2015-16 season, Jefferson injured his left foot and he sat the rest of the season. Granted a medical redshirt, the 6-9 forward came back for a fifth year, showing off all that Duke’s Sweet 16 team missed out on last season.
13. Luke Kennard beats a buzzer
It was Kennard’s way of letting everyone know that he was just getting started. En route to a career-high 35 points, he sunk a deep triple at the first-half buzzer to put Duke up 46-32 against Maine.
12. Jefferson’s 18 big ones
The 18 rebounds against Tennessee State were a career-high for Jefferson. He pulled down 11 on the defensive end.
11. Jeter’s homecoming
Lots of Jeter’s family was there when the Las Vegas native played against UNLV on Dec. 10. He returned to the starting lineup and played 15 minutes in Duke’s 94-45 rout of the Rebels.
10. Frank Jackson’s starting stint
After Jeter went down, the freshman guard appeared in the starting lineup for five games. Jackson, who dazzled as a starter (and, really, otherwise, too) earned ACC Freshman of the Week honors this season and put up double-digit scoring efforts in each of his starts.
9. Scoring career-highs
Kennard scored a career-best 35 points in Durham against Maine. Just a day after his first practice in weeks, Allen put on the best scoring performance of his three-year career at Duke at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
8. Tatum, Bolden, Giles miss season opener. What?
Two from the star freshmen didn’t appear in Duke’s season opener to unexpected injuries. Giles had undergone knee surgery in October, so he wasn’t expected to be ready by the opener on Nov. 11, when Duke hosted Marist. But the other two, who had appeared in exhibition games and preseason scrimmages, were supposed to be there. That shook a few things up.
7. Jackson’s super trey
Man, he almost did it, a freshman. In a big game against Kansas at Madison Square Garden, the freshman guard buried the game-tying 3-pointer with 16 seconds left. Only, Frank Mason’s shot was bigger – the Kansas guard hit the game-winner in Duke’s only loss in nonconference play.
6. Cameron Crazies took it too far
When Duke hosted Michigan State, a Cameron Crazie took a jab at Flint, Michigan native and MSU star freshman Miles Bridges by holding up a handmade sign reading, “The water taste better in North Carolina.” Poking fun at Flint’s water crisis was not cool.
5. Remember that time when…
The freshmen came out dressed and everyone thought they may play? It was mental – for everyone.
4. ‘He’s back’
Minutes before his return, Duke tweeted a photo with the words “He’s back.” attached to Jayson Tatum’s team photo. The rookie made his collegiate debut against Maine and scored 10 points.
3. Allen’s monster dunk
Allen must have felt great after his first practice in weeks. In the first half at UNLV, he took a feed from Jones and flew up the lane for a ferocious one-handed throw down, one of three dunks that day.
2. Giles’ debut
Giles made a brief debut against Tennessee State on Dec. 19. He played four minutes in the first half of Duke’s 65-55 home win. He didn’t score that game, but notched a free throw against Elon for his first college points two days later.
1. Allen was tripping – again
Allen was suspended indefinitely after tripping Elon’s Steven Santa Ana in Duke’s regular-season finale. It was the Duke guard’s third offense of the sort, which blew up social media. The Blue Devils will start their ACC season without their star junior.
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan
Duke at Virginia Tech
When: Noon Saturday
Where: Cassell Coliseum, Blacksburg, Va.