After wearing down an overmatched Buffalo team in a 82-59 victory this past Saturday, the Blue Devils could finally exhale.
It has been a whirlwind beginning to the season, with nine games in three cities over 23 days. And the No. 8 Blue Devils (8-1) are ready for a break.
“This was a long, extended stretch of quick turnarounds, learning about one team and then the next day having to learn about a whole different group,” Amile Jefferson said. “Always being locked in mentally as well as physically. When you’re playing three really good teams in five or six days, you don’t have a lot of room for turnaround. It’s like you play the next game, and then you get over it. It’s taxing on you mentally and physically.”
The Blue Devils have a 10-day break for final exams and don’t play again until Dec. 15 against Georgia Southern. Monday was a feedback, lift and conditioning day. Tuesday and Wednesday will be off days, letting players focus on schoolwork. Thursday night, there will be another conditioning workout, and all exams, projects and papers will be done by midday Friday. That gives Duke until Monday to meet daily and just focus on basketball.
“One thing about the exam week, once you get through it, you don’t have school,” Mike Krzyzewski said. “Even though you have Christmas break and stuff like that, you can really hone in on being a basketball player. All of us need to do that.”
And, for the first time since the preseason, the Blue Devils will have the time to practice hard, challenging each other to get better instead of just relying on opponents to do that. Coaches will have time to review film with players and make necessary tweaks. And the players that actually play will have time to let their bodies recover.
Duke already has a short rotation, going just seven deep even in games against mid-major opponents: Marshall Plumlee, Amile Jefferson, Matt Jones, Grayson Allen, Brandon Ingram, Derryck Thornton and Luke Kennard. And for the latter three, there has certainly been an adjustment to the pace and physicality of the college game.
It’s one thing to run an eight-man rotation when it includes elite talents like Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones. It’s not quite the same with the seven the Blue Devils feel comfortable with this year. That leads to performances like the one against Buffalo, with Krzyzewski saying he thought his team looked tired, particularly in the first half.
Still, though, Krzyzewski made a point after both the Indiana and Buffalo wins to say that he was proud of his squad. The loss to Kentucky was a wake-up call, no doubt. But since then, even if it hasn’t always been aesthetically pleasing, the Blue Devils have found a way to win. And that’s a valuable skill.
“Our team played like winners today,” Krzyzewski said after the Buffalo game, which Duke won despite shooting a season-low field goal percentage. “And I am proud of them.”