Mike Krzyzewski joked that the Blue Devils won every practice last week during their break from ACC games.
“So we’re undefeated,” he said.
While that may be true, the Blue Devils (15-6, 4-4 ACC) did take a hit nationally: For the first time in nearly nine years (March 2007), Duke is unranked in the AP poll. The streak of 167 consecutive weeks ended Monday.
The Blue Devils have more immediate problems than mourning the loss of historical streaks, though. There is a postseason resume that needs to be built, and the Blue Devils need to add more wins to it. When looking at the rest of the schedule, there’s no question that Tuesday’s game against Georgia Tech (12-9, 2-6) is the most winnable road game left.
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But that won’t make it easy.
It’s been a long seven weeks.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski on Amile Jefferson’s absence due to a broken foot
Noted statistician Ken Pomeroy gives Duke a 54 percent chance of winning with a predicted final score of 78-77. As of Monday afternoon, the oddsmakers in Las Vegas anticipated a similarly close game, installing Duke as a 2-point favorite.
A close game would be more of the same for Georgia Tech.
The Yellow Jackets have quite the knack for losing close games. Since the start of last season, Georgia Tech is 5-21 in ACC play, with 18 of those losses coming by eight points or less. All six of this year’s losses are included in that range. Almost equally remarkable is the fact that the Yellow Jackets have only won two such close games, an upset of Virginia on Jan. 9 (68-64) and a road win at N.C. State last week (90-83).
Georgia Tech has a center (Ben Lammers) and four forwards that average at least 10 minutes a game in ACC play: Charles Mitchell, Nick Jacobs, Quinton Stephens and James White. But luckily for Duke’s four guards and one center outfit, the Yellow Jackets aren’t particularly effective at drawing fouls and getting to the free-throw line, ranking 14th out of 15 ACC teams in free-throw rate, which measures a team’s ability to get to the line.
Avoiding fouls will be key for Duke as long as the rotation remains at six players. And it will be that way Tuesday night, as injured forward Amile Jefferson is still not ready to return. There has been some progression, though, according to Krzyzewski.
As of last Thursday, Jefferson had not yet begun working out on the court. Over the weekend, that changed.
“He’s doing a little bit on the court, but we would put him in harm’s way, I think, in putting him to where he’s really playing,” Krzyzewski said. “There’s progression. Whenever you have some progression, you have to see what that little bit does to his recovery. Does it knock him back or whatever? We’re in that process now.
“It’s been a long seven weeks.”
Duke is 7-5 without Jefferson and lacking a top-50 win during that time. After this week, the Blue Devils enter the toughest two-week stretch of their schedule, playing a home-and-home with Louisville, hosting Virginia and traveling to North Carolina. All three teams are ranked in the AP poll and in Pomeroy’s top 10. Duke would love Jefferson back by then.
And the Blue Devils would certainly like to rack up the available wins before then, too.