With the majority of Duke's highly touted recruiting class at the end of the bench injured, the Blue Devils look an awful lot like they did last season – without Brandon Ingram, but with a Amile Jefferson back in the post and healthy freshman Frank Jackson instead of Derryck Thornton.
And for now, that's just fine, even with two games in less than 24 hours. For how much longer? Duke only has to wait 72 more hours to find out.
Top-ranked Duke followed Friday's 45-point win over Marist with a 96-61 win over Grand Canyon on Saturday, shaking off some early struggles with the Antelopes' quickness to blow the game open at the end of the first half with a 16-2 run that saw four different players score for the Blue Devils, then pick up where they left off in the second.
Neither Marist nor Grand Canyon had the talent or depth to give the Blue Devils a real push. That will change Tuesday in New York when Duke faces Kansas in the Champions Classic, and that's when the Blue Devils could miss Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden and Harry Giles, who wore matching sweatpants and golf shirts Saturday.
Or maybe they won't. While so much attention has been paid to Duke's freshman class, and justifiably so, the Blue Devils return a remarkable amount of talent and experience. Combine that with Chase Jeter, who appears to have taken a quantum leap forward – or at the least, can earn a foul call or two this season – and there's a lot here even without the star power the freshmen would have brought, and will presumably still bring shortly.
“Guys like me, Amile, Matt, we know that we're good,” Grayson Allen said. “We're confident that we're good. We don't need to do anything to go out there and prove it. If those (freshmen) are playing well, we're going to let them play well and let them go. We're very confident in ourselves as captains. When those guys get out there and go, we're their No. 1 fans.”
Saturday, Allen had 25 points and 10 rebounds, Jackson 21 points, Jefferson 15 points and seven rebounds, Luke Kennard 14 points and six assists, and Matt Jones 11 points and five assists as five members of the Blue Devils' six-man rotation finished in double figures.
A second freshman, Javin DeLaurier, saw a few minutes of action early. And that was it until the final five minutes, when the Blue Devils finished without Jefferson, who did not return after losing his right shoe in a collision but could have returned if needed – a scare, but that's all.
It could be this way for a while. Tatum is probably closest to returning, and was expected back by now before suffering a setback. Bolden will be reevaluated this week and Giles is in the midst of a long-term rehab from knee surgery. But Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said none are likely to return this (busy) week, which after Kansas includes Penn State on Saturday and either Cinncinati or Rhode Island on Sunday.
“We just have to keep getting better, and then once all these injuries are taken care of, at some time, we can become a different team,” Krzyzewski said. “Right now, we have to be this team, and not think about who we could be.”
So instead of dropping the hot new album everyone expected, these Blue Devils just keep dipping into their back catalog. And no concert crowd has ever complained about the greatest hits.
Whether that’s enough to beat Kansas, the Blue Devils will find out Monday. It was certainly enough to get them through the opening weekend without too much trouble, and perhaps beyond.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock