Duke’s done it before, under slightly different circumstances.
When the Blue Devils won the 2015 national championship, only six players saw action in all 39 games.
Others played solid minutes, like Grayson Allen, who was a freshman then.
Duke had a short rotation, because that’s all it needed most days.
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Coming into the 2016-17 season, with eyes on another NCAA title, the Blue Devils enjoyed the option of depth. They had the best freshman class coupled with a now-veteran core that was on the floor on April 6, 2015 in the 68-63 title win over Wisconsin in Indianapolis.
Only, coach Mike Krzyzewski has put the weight on the veterans while three talented freshman bigs are out as they are nursed back to health.
So now, the Blue Devils have to play a short rotation.
Harry Giles hasn’t played at all for Duke and had knee surgery in October. Jayson Tatum dazzled in the Blue-White Scrimmage on Oct. 22 but sprained his foot in a preseason practice. Marques Bolden was sidelined with a lower-leg injury in a practice after his appearance in Duke’s first exhibition game on Oct. 28.
Duke has used a six-man rotation, sprinkling a few guys deeper on the bench here and there in games that weren’t Kansas or Michigan State.
Duke (7-1) overcame a physical Michigan State team 78-69 in last week’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge with six players.
Junior guard Grayson Allen led with 24 points without even practicing because of an irritated foot.
It hasn’t been a bad start for Duke’s six-man rotation, which has sophomore forward Chase Jeter coming off the bench. He started the first four games of the season but went down in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Weekend with a mid-foot injury. Freshman guard Frank Jackson replaced him in the starting lineup.
The new starting lineup of Allen, Jackson, sophomore Luke Kennard, senior Matt Jones and grad student Amile Jefferson average 74.4 of the team’s 84.6 points per game. They’re all averaging at least 30 minutes a game, led by Jones’ and Kennards’ 35.6.
The only Duke player who hasn’t started this season averaging double-figure minutes is Antonio Vrankovic (11.2 minutes, 3.5 points).
ACC’s top scorers, both from Pitt, don’t average more minutes than Jones and Kennard. Leader Michael Young (23.6 points) averaged 33.3 minutes, and his teammate Jamel Artis (19.7 PPG) has 33.9. Only Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame (17.8 PPG) has more minutes than the two Duke leaders with 35.7.
Duke has a slow December (six games) and would be OK with such limitations for the rest of its nonconference slate: Maine, Florida, UNLV, Tennessee State and Elon. The Blue Devils open ACC play at Virginia Tech on New Year’s Eve.
And in these early stages of the college basketball season, the ACC has some hot contenders outside of Duke and North Carolina.
Virginia is allowing just 44.1 points a game, an NCAA-best. Notre Dame is led by Bonzie Colson, who’s making a case for an all-ACC first-team selection after averaging a double-double (18.1 points, 10.7 rebounds) and showing out in the Irish’s win over Iowa (24 points, 17 rebounds, 12-of-12 from the line) with his fourth straight double-double.
Both teams are 7-0. Louisville is 4-0 at home. Duke plays Louisville, Notre Dame and Syracuse on the road this season.
For now, Krzyzewski is comfortable with the veterans leading the charge in tougher games until the freshmen are available to show what they can offer.
“Matt and Amile have been in over 100 games,” Krzyzewski said. “They’ve earned it. It’s not inherited wealth. It’s stuff that they earned.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan
Maine at Duke
When: 5:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham