When asked how he felt about the Blue Devils on the eve of ACC play, Mike Krzyzewski pointed out what’s obviously missing from the best-case scenario.
“I would like Amile (Jefferson) to be healthy,” he said.
Jefferson is out indefinitely with a broken right foot, but Krzyzewski is pleased with No. 15 Duke (11-2) as ACC play begins Saturday, at Boston College (7-6).
“Overall, we improved a lot,” Krzyzewski said. “We’re going to just try to keep doing our best. We’re going to try to win. It was nice to close out the nonconference 11-2 with a good schedule.”
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Duke ranks No. 27 in terms of nonconference strength of schedule, according to CBS Sports. And Krzyzewski pointed out that this season’s Blue Devils continued what’s now a 16-year tradition of not losing nonconference games at home. The last non-ACC team to beat Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium was St. John’s, 83-82, on Feb. 26, 2000. In a program that values tradition as Duke does, making a tangible connection to the successful past is a meaningful intangible for these Blue Devils.
“We’re proud of those things and the 11-2, and now we’re 0-0,” Kryzewski said. “It’s not like football. You have to earn it now and be really good in your conference and earn the right to play in the tournament where only one team wins. There has to be a toughness that’s developed, and we’ll have to continue to get that. We have to continue to get that.”
The Blue Devils have shown signs of having the necessary toughness to be successful in the ACC and beyond. They won close games against VCU and Georgetown and managed to have a chance to beat Utah despite having just six rotation players and shooting a season-low 29.9 percent from the floor. They rose to the occasion and blew out Indiana on a big-game stage.
Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen have found their scoring touch and are both playing their best basketball of the season. For the Blue Devils to win, they are going to have to out-offense opponents, and Ingram and Allen are going to be the primary players responsible for that.
Krzyzewski called Allen the “epitome” of a scorer because he is good at all three levels: 2-point shots, 3-point shots and free throws.
“He has the ability to draw fouls in addition to shoot and score,” Krzyzewski said of Allen. “Actually Brandon (Ingram) can do that. We need to get Luke (Kennard) in a consistent basis doing that. Then you become tough to defend.”
There is always room for improvement. Last time out, it took the Blue Devils about 18 minutes to start playing well in their 103-81 win over Long Beach State. The slow start had both the players and coaches unhappy after the game, as those with experience know such stretches of sleepwalks can turn into losses come ACC play.
Obviously, we have young guys that have never been in ACC play, so it’s up to us veterans to really just make sure that they know that any day you can lose.
Matt Jones, Duke junior guard
The ACC season will inevitably hold some trap games for Duke, as upperclassmen such as Marshall Plumlee and Matt Jones know. For the Blue Devils to avoid head-scratching losses, the younger players need to grasp that fact quickly.
“Obviously, we have young guys that have never been in ACC play, so it’s up to us veterans to really just make sure that they know that any day you can lose,” Jones said.
Krzyzewski went more glass half-full.
“I hope we can not lose in the conference,” he said while talking about the nonconference home win streak. “That would be even better.”