Duke had spent its 10 days away from game competition working on fine-tuning and other small details. But then Monday the Blue Devils learned that they would have to make a major adjustment.
Senior forward Amile Jefferson is out indefinitely with a right foot injury, the school announced in a press release. There is no timetable for his return. Duke had virtually no frontcourt depth before Jefferson’s injury, and that’s a major problem now.
“This injury is unfortunate, to say the least, but Amile is strong in both person and character,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a release. “He will continue to be an integral part of this team, and we will support him fully as he rehabs this foot injury.”
Jefferson was averaging 11.4 points and 10.3 rebounds in 30.3 minutes per game and was among the best offensive rebounders in the country. The Blue Devils do not have anyone on the roster who can replace that production.
Jefferson’s foot injury will bring back frustrating memories of foot injuries sustained by Ryan Kelly and Kyrie Irving – injuries without clear prognoses or timetables for return. In the meantime, the Blue Devils must adjust.
Duke’s best option is likely to move Brandon Ingram to the 4 position. That is less than ideal defensively, given Ingram’s slender frame, but he will present issues for opposing power forwards on the perimeter.
Point guard Derryck Thornton will likely move into the starting lineup, joining Matt Jones and Grayson Allen in the backcourt. Chase Jeter, who is averaging just 8.1 minutes a game, will have to play more, but he is not ready to contribute significant minutes. He only logged three minutes against a weak Buffalo team in Duke’s last game. Still, he will be needed to keep the rotation at seven players.
The smaller lineup won’t be an issue on Tuesday night against Georgia Southern (3-4), but Saturday’s game against Utah will give a more accurate look at how successful Duke can be against decent competition with just one big.
Earlier in the day, before news of Jefferson’s injury broke, Marshall Plumlee spoke about how he worked on his conditioning over this 10-day break to better prepare himself to play 30, 35 minutes a game. His ability to do so is even more critical now.
“This last stretch of games was the most I’ve ever played, and it was an adjustment,” Plumlee said. “Now I know what it feels like, and I want to be in even better shape, and I want to be even more dependable for my teammates. That’s something I want to work on.”
Plumlee worked on “long-distance” running on the treadmill – in the basketball world, that’s 2 miles – and ran sprints on the floor. He also worked on his touch around the basket, where he is averaging 5.7 points and 6.4 rebounds in 25 minutes per game.
As a team, Duke worked on becoming sharper, in every sense of the word. That includes the obvious, such as making better reads on where the ball should go offensively and executing plays more crisply, as well as working on the mental side of the game.
“Coach K traditionally has teams that are very intelligent, and he is able to draw up a lot of things for them on the offensive and defensive end of the floor,” Plumlee said. “We’ve got to be sharp enough that he can use us like that.”
And with Jefferson out, Duke’s ability to quickly diagnose and take advantage of opportunities on the floor becomes paramount.