Maybe it is overly reactive, but the Duke Blue Devils falling to the Florida State Seminoles the way they did on Tuesday night made clear a pertinent idea: This hyped team, with all those incredible freshmen, is not all that grand if it plays without Amile Jefferson.
That isn’t all that hot of a take. It’s essentially just saying that removing a good veteran big man from a thin roster that’s reliant upon youth is going to cause pretty big issues.
On Tuesday, the issues were in the lane. That makes sense, especially when one considers Jefferson’s role on the defensive end of the floor is to protect that area of the hardwood.
In a game decided by 16 points, Duke allowed Florida State to shoot 53 percent from the floor and out-rebound the Blue Devils by eight total boards. Jefferson would have had a profoundly positive effect on those statistics for Duke, had he been able to play.
That doesn’t mean the Blue Devils would have won — a 16-point differential isn’t exactly a barnburner of a game — it just highlights how weak Duke is in several key areas. It would also do the Seminoles a disservice to make excuses for the Duke loss; they are an earnest contender to win the ACC regular season title.
Duke’s depth is going the way of the dinosaurs, and the inexperience of the roster is burning through brighter than a diamond’s light.
The Blue Devils ended up playing a total of eight players against Florida State, which isn’t a horrible rotation, but when you note that Harry Giles and Marques Bolden combined for a whopping 14 minutes of time on the floor, that rotation is more precisely down to seven people. Two players are essentially filling the role of one man.
That puts even more pressure on “veterans” Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen to perform at an incredibly high level. It is also, in turn, asking Chase Jeter and Matt Jones to play above their abilities.
Jefferson goes a long way in preventing those things from happening. When the senior is healthy, role guys are simply asked to be role guys, and the youth are allowed to be inconsistent because there’s a backbone available to bail them out.
None of that is terribly shocking or surprising. It does lead to an interesting question, though:
Is Amile Jefferson actually Duke’s most important player?
It is my personal belief that Kennard is not only the team’s best player, but its most important one. However, as we witnessed on Tuesday, it is becoming pretty clear that the Blue Devils fall off rather dramatically when Jefferson isn’t in the lineup. If Kennard were to miss some games, there would at least be the possibility that Allen could replace his production.
With Duke moving forward for another four weeks(ish) without Coach K, but already off to a sluggish start to the ACC schedule, it is going to be interesting to see what Jeff Capel does next.
Having to confront the never-ending Allen takes, with Coach K’s legacy looming over his shoulder, Capel must pray to the basketball gods Jefferson heals quicker than a video game character. He and the entire team can ill afford to navigate the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule minus a player who can’t be replaced.
Luckily for them, Duke is off until the 14th when it plays Louisville, but it doesn’t play again after that until Jan 21. If the team — specifically, Jefferson — needs more time to mend some wounds, better to do so now before the schedule more closely resembles a murderer’s row of traveling nightmares and squads as talented as Florida State’s.
Yet, the potential horror remains the same. For all the attention — rightfully so — that has gone to Kennard’s rise as Duke’s best player, to the highly-hyped freshmen, and to Allen’s ho-hum play this season (coupled with tripping more times than a character in a Cheech and Chong movie), Amile Jefferson is the team’s anchor.
Without him, Duke will sail into the college basketball ocean without any obvious destination, not rooted in veteran leadership. The Blue Devils could end up being lost at sea.
Jefferson is, clearly, a pretty big deal.