Every night, Matt Jones asks his roommate, Amile Jefferson, about his broken right foot.
“I kind of just subtly ask him, ‘how is your foot feeling?’ ” Jones said. “I see him walking around the dorm, this and that. He looks better.”
While there has been progress in Jefferson’s recovery since he broke his right foot in practice in mid December, he still isn’t back on the court practicing with the team yet. And Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is stressing to his Blue Devils that they can’t just wait around for Jefferson to return.
Duke needs wins. Now.
“Our backs are against the wall right now, and we just need wins,” said Jones, a junior guard. “That doesn’t mean we’re tight or anything like that. We just have to take it day by day and get better each day.
“We can win without Amile, and we can with Amile. Right now, we have to win without Amile.”
Winning without senior forward Jefferson has proven much more difficult. Duke is 7-5 without him, with its best win coming against N.C. State. The Wolfpack ranks 82 in statistician Ken Pomeroy’s Division I rankings, and they are the only top-100 win for the Blue Devils without Jefferson.
With Jefferson, the Blue Devils went 8-1 in non conference play with wins over Indiana (22), VCU (29) and Georgetown (50).
“For our team, we have to continue to focus on what we have right now just because we don’t know for sure about Amile, when he’s coming back,” said sophomore guard Grayson Allen. “It can’t just be a waiting game, like, oh, we’re going to be good when he comes back. We need to get a lot better now.”
The Blue Devils have the most room for improvement on the defensive end. Duke ranks 147 out of 351 teams in Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency rankings, yielding an average of 1.02 points per possession (for a benchmark, the best defensive team, West Virginia, gives up 0.88 points per possession). Both man-to-man and the 2-3 zone have been ineffective. Teams that make extensive use of ball-screens tend to have success against Duke.
The Blue Devils see ways to improve on offense, too.
“Offensively, we need to take advantage of the weapons that we have,” Allen said. “Brandon (Ingram) has been really good for us, and he’s going to keep improving. We need to take advantage of him and the mismatch that he gives us out there on the court.”
Krzyzewski has been upbeat this week, both Jones and Allen said, but there have been plenty of teaching moments in attempts to coax improvement out of this group. And above all, there has been a sense of urgency. Tuesday’s game at Georgia Tech (12-8, 2-5 ACC) is one the Blue Devils must win, regardless of who is on the court.
“We have to make it happen right now while he’s out,” Jones said of Jefferson. “If we do that, then we put him ... in a good position for when he comes back. But right now we can’t really look down the road and try and hold the fort down until he gets back. We have to get wins now, basically.”