The first week-plus has not exactly gone the way Mike Krzyzewski probably drew it up, but Duke has emerged from it in a pretty good place. If they were a stock, you might buy them.
The Blue Devils capped a challenging stretch to open the season with a 75-65 win over a good Rhode Island team on Sunday to capture the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Connecticut. It was a game that showed what this team can do as well as its ceiling.
Right now, Duke is not what we thought they would be. As has been well-documented, they are without highly-touted freshmen Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden due to injuries. But that isn’t all, as Grayson Allen is gamely battling as he is banged up, and it’s clear he’s not as athletic as he usually is, while big man Chase Jeter turned an ankle on Saturday. Jeter played eight minutes on Sunday and wasn’t much of a factor, but prior to the injury he seemed to be emerging.
The Blue Devils got just ten minutes from their bench on Sunday, so they rode their starting five as much as they could. While they often only play seven or eight players anyway, right now they have fewer options. If they get healthy, though, they will have many more, and it will be a pleasant problem to have.
Luke Kennard had a game-high 24 points to lead five Blue Devils in double figures, with Amile Jefferson having a monster game of 17 points and 15 rebounds. Allen played 39 minutes despite being clearly not 100 percent.
Duke has not emerged from this unscathed, as they lost a tough one to Kansas on Tuesday night. Give Kansas credit for that one. But the Blue Devils beat a good Rhode Island team on Sunday largely behind the play of Kennard, who has always had the talent to play like this but not the opportunity. Rhode Island had the game played in a fashion that benefited them, but Duke did what they had to in order to win.
Many are talking about how good Duke will be if they get healthy. In theory, that should be true, but the injured players will be playing their first minutes of college basketball. Giles will be playing for the first time in well over a year. Roles will change as well, and Frank Jackson, who has looked serviceable at the point but more of a scorer, will probably need to run the show and distribute more. So while it’s easy to think Duke will get much better while already being pretty good, that’s not a guarantee, especially right away.
What is a guarantee is that Duke will have even more margin for error if they get healthy. That, ultimately, is what talent gives you. Krzyzewski will have a wealth of options, and that will make them dangerous. In the end, this opening stretch will shape this team well for later in the season, which is, after all, a lot of what non-conference play is supposed to do.
In the consolation game of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Naismith Bracket, Cincinnati broke away from Penn State later in the first half en route to a 71-50 win, getting 16 points and 17 rebounds from Kyle Washington. In the Springfield Bracket, Grand Canyon used a big first half to knock off Marist 84-72 for the championship, while Albany needed a big second half to beat Brown 80-76 for third place.
Northern Iowa tried to call up more late-game magic in the Tire Pros Invitational in Orlando, but Xavier had enough to take hom a 67-59 win and the title despite a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds from Jeremy Morgan. Oklahoma took third place with a 70-64 win over Clemson, Davidson beat Arizona State 68-60 and Missouri beat Tulane 67-62, rallying from a ten-point halftime deficit.
It’s not a surprise that Villanova won the Charleston Classic, wrapping it up with a 67-57 win over UCF. The defending champs were widely viewed as the clear team to beat in the field, and their fundamentally sound basketball led them to three convincing wins. Tacko Fall had a big game in the losing effort, scoring 20 points and grabbing 13 rebounds for UCF. Wake Forest took third place by running out to a 14-point halftime lead en route to a 78-61 win over College of Charleston, while Mississippi State beat UTEP 61-54 and Boise State broke away from Western Michigan en route to a 91-70 romp.
In the Paradise Jam, the semifinals saw Creighton pull away from NC State 112-94 to advance to the final. They will play Ole Miss, 81-68 winners over Saint Joseph’s behind 26 points and 12 rebounds from Sebastian Saiz.
One game that was not part of a tournament stood out for a controversial ending. Michigan State held on to beat Florida Gulf Coast 78-77, but FGCU had a chance at the end. Wtih 1.6 seconds left, the Eagles had the chance to throw the ball in from their own end. Christian Terrell threw a long pass that Antravious Simmons caught, but the clock started as soon as the ball was thrown, so Simmons barely had any time to put up a shot but did anyway. Officials used the replay monitor and timed the play, determining that Simmons put the shot up 1.3 seconds after he caught it, so the shot would have counted if he made it (he missed), with no time remaining. By rule, the possession could not be replayed, so the game was over. The ending overshadowed a terrific 31-point outing by Michigan State’s Eron Harris, as he was 10-15 from the field including 6-6 from long range.
Towson gave Maryland all they could handle before succumbing, as the Terrapins had to rally for a 71-66 win behind 27 points from Melo Trimble.
The Maui Jim Maui Invitational starts on Monday, and Oregon will have a key piece back just in time. Dillon Brooks, the Ducks’ All-America candidate, has been cleared to play and will make his season debut in their opener against Georgetown. The plan will be for him to play limited minutes to work his way back up to playing big minutes.
The early season tournaments get into high gear as a few big ones start today.
- The Maui Jim Maui Invitational tips off and has Tennessee taking on Wisconsin and Georgetown taking on Oregon in the first half of the day, then Oklahoma State faces UConn and North Carolina plays host Chaminade.
- The CBE Hall of Fame Classic semifinals starts in Kansas City with Georgia taking on George Washington, then Kansas takes on UAB.
- The Legends Classic semifinals begin in Brooklyn with Notre Dame taking on Colorado, then Texas and Northwestern meet in the nightcap.
- The MGM Grand Main Event in Las Vegas begins with Ball State taking on Coppin State, then Coastal Carolina takes on Southern Utah, Saint Louis meets BYU and Valparaiso takes on Alabama.
- The Paradise Jam closes with four games: Oral Roberts vs. Montana, Loyola (Ill.) vs. Washington State, Saint Joseph’s vs. NC State, and the championship game between Creighton and Ole Miss.
- The Gulf Coast Showcase has four underrated games on tap in Estero, Florida: Wofford vs. Vermont, Hofstra vs. Bradley, Kent State vs. South Dakota and George Mason vs. Houston.
- In Cedar Park, Texas, the Lone Star Classic has a doubleheader of UALR taking on St. Bonaventure followed by Central Michigan battling Pepperdine.
- Non-tournament action is highlighted by Illinois hosting Winthrop and San Diego State hosting Cal.