Five Games In: What We Know

The Blue Devils are 4-1 on the young season and several truths have already revealed themselves. What do we know about Coach K's latest roster just a few weeks into the year? We explore that in depth.


After starting strong against Siena and Bryant, Grayson Allen’s performance against Kentucky was enough to prompt analysts and pundits alike to wonder if Allen was overhyped.  Fast forward to the awards podium at the 2K Classic and there’s a very different narrative developing…that Allen may be one of the best pure scorers in the country.

The numbers certainly warrant the conversation after the sophomore averaged 31 points, 5.5 boards, 3.5 assists, and 1.5 steals per game.  He also became the first Blue Devil to score 30 or more points in back to back games since J.J. Redick’s senior season in Durham.   Like Redick, Allen showed off range out to the NBA line, but unlike the Duke version of Redick (the professional has continued to diversify his game), Allen is able to score in a number of other ways including drives to the basket and mid-range jumpers. 

That variety was sorely missing against Kentucky as Allen continually drove into John Calapari’s legions of post players who calmly rejected five attempts and bothered the rest.   The difference in New York was the variety of ways Allen attacked.  The reason for the change in approach from Allen?  A post-UK film session with the coaching staff. 

“There was obviously a rough film session after the Kentucky game where we talked about the improvements that needed to be made,” said Allen.  “Once you see that you move on to the next game. You make those improvements and move on.”

He did so in a big way and appears poised to have the kind of breakout season  predicted by Coach K in the preseason.


For all of Allen’s brilliance, there’s a downside too.  Much like those Redick teams of the past, having a dominant scorer is great, but when he’s off there needs to be more options.   And right now, that second and third scorer are somewhat of a guessing game. 

Senior Amile Jefferson has been steady, but he’s not getting much called for him in terms of the regular offense.  Like Jefferson, junior Matt Jones is averaging double figures, but he’s a guy who is best suited as a second line offensive threat.  Both players excel in other ways beginning with defense and rebounding.  It’s not a stretch to think that neither player was expected to be a top line scorer for Duke this season.  

That is decidedly not the case for newcomers Brandon Ingram and Luke Kennard.    Both of whom came into college heralded for their ability to score in various ways.   Through five games Ingram has been demoted to the role of sixth man after struggling with his shot, the physical nature of the game, and all things in between.  Meanwhile, Kennard is shooting around 10 percent from the perimeter.  

Both will likely adjust to the game, and it’s important to remember that…


A season ago Duke had three newcomers who came into the college game ready to start and play big minutes.  Not only that, they were ready to be starters and the focal point of one of the best teams in the country.   This year, Duke has some very talented newcomers, but they are typical freshmen.  And that’s going bring on the usual growing pains associated with steep learning curves. 

Both Ingram and Kennard have struggled for the last week, and each is going to need to raise their standards of play if this team is to maximize its potential.   So far you can see flashes of it, but we’ve seen in the first five games that each player is going to take some time to really settle in. 

The best player in the class so far has been point guard Derryck Thornton Jr. who  earned his way into the starting five after a strong second half against Kentucky.  Thornton’s game is markedly different from that of Jones a season ago, and he’s not quite the floor general.  As such the offense sometimes sputters out aside from Allen.  Still, Thornton has been very good on defense and displays a superior level of athleticism and driving ability to Jones though some times having a steadier approach would help.  

The fourth freshman expected to play is Chase Jeter, the Nevada big man who registered a DNP against VCU and only five minutes against Georgetown.  Like Allen a season ago, Jeter is clearly the eighth man in the rotation, but you have to think he’ll begin to see more and more minutes as the season progresses.


One thing we have seen in the last week is that this roster, while not overly deep, does have the ability to play and match-up with a number of different opponents.   Duke can go big with Ingram, Jefferson, and Plumlee in the front court, or Duke can go small against teams with Jefferson surrounded by four guards.   

When Duke goes small, the ideal situation would be for Ingram to be capable of playing the stretch four role alongside Jefferson with Allen, Thornton, and then one of Kennard or Jones.  It would at least give the Blue Devils some semblance of height and Ingram has the ability to post up smaller guards and bother shots on the other end with his length.  But, as noted above, he’s struggling right now.  

Just as there are options on offense, Duke could also be solid on the other end of the floor though neither of the games in New York showcased that potential.  Coach K alternated between 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones mixed in with his beloved man-to-man defense and found varying levels of success with each.  Again, it depends on the personnel on the court, but Duke should be able to defend in the post and on the perimeter at higher levels than we saw in New York.


A season ago eight was enough.  This year eight is, once again, going to need to be good enough.  Right now it’s a six or seven man rotation depending on how well Kennard is shooting.  Jeter’s development and necessity will likely prompt Krzyzewski to play the freshman big throughout the season as he’s clearly ahead of sophomore Sean Obi and freshman Antonio Vrankovic - neither of which will likely factor into this season’s in-game rotation.

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