Duke

Health looms as Duke’s biggest hurdle – DeCock

Duke's Amile Jefferson (21) dives for a loose ball with Augustana's Austin Saugstad (1) at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Nov. 4.
Duke's Amile Jefferson (21) dives for a loose ball with Augustana's Austin Saugstad (1) at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Nov. 4. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Duke is the preseason No. 1 team for a reason. For lots of reasons. Good ones. Start with returning, experienced players like Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson, Luke Kennard, Matt Jones and Chase Jeter. Then add an elite recruiting class with players like Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson and Marques Bolden.

While there are no guarantees on the court, the biggest obstacle standing between Duke and a national championship is health. The Blue Devils have been derailed before.

Kyrie Irving’s toe injury turned what looked like the best team in the country before he got hurt into one that was never the same, even after he came back. Had Irving stayed healthy, the Blue Devils had a legitimate shot to repeat as champions.

Last season, Jefferson was averaging a double-double before a foot injury knocked him out for the season. His rebounding and leadership were sorely needed on a team that, like in 2011, failed to win an ACC title and got knocked out of the tournament in the second weekend.

Already this fall, Allen has gotten banged around, Tatum suffered a foot injury that looks to be minor – although you never know; just ask Irving or Jefferson – Bolden suffered a lower-leg injury with less than a week to go until the opener and Giles faces a long, slow road back from knee surgery.

If Duke stays healthy, the Blue Devils will be favored in every game they play – except perhaps the final game of the season at North Carolina. A healthy Duke may be an unstoppable Duke.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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