To say that Duke Basketball has been plagued with injury problems to start the 2016-17 campaign would be an understatement. The Blue Devils were dealt early setbacks at the beginning of the year with the continued recovery of star freshman forward Harry Giles, as well as a bevy of injuries that included fellow freshman studs Marques Bolden and Jayson Tatum, and sophomore big man Chase Jeter.
However, Duke was dealt possibly its most significant blow thus far in the team’s 93-82 victory over Boston College on Saturday after learning that graduate forward Amile Jefferson will not play in Tuesday night’s contest against No. 9 Florida State in Tallahassee. Jefferson suffered a bone bruise in his right foot against the Eagles, and although the injury appears to be short-term, it could not have come at a worse time.
Jefferson has enjoyed what is easily the best season of his career, averaging 13.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game while shooting over 60 percent from the floor. As a fifth-year player, he has been the vocal and spiritual leader for a team that is primarily built around the strength of its young stars. Likewise, he has made Giles’ transition into the lineup that much easier with his superb play.
Jefferson’s absence poses as a serious problem as the Blue Devils get set to square off against the Seminoles, particularly because of the length and rebounding ability of Florida State. Standout 6’7″ guard Dwayne Bacon loves to attack the hoop and is excellent at drawing contact at the rim, while the 6’10” mountain that is freshman Jonathan Isaac is already showing incredible prowess from the post position, with early averages of 12.2 points and 7.2 boards per contest, as well as more than one block per game.
The maturation of Giles will be extremely important in this game, as he will be the player that will have to carry Jefferson’s load on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Expect Giles to see the most floor time he has all year, as he played 24 minutes against the Eagles and posted perhaps his most well-rounded performance since returning to action. Giles’ emergence as a potential rim protector will be critical against a Seminoles team that can spread the floor, and fellow freshman Marques Bolden should also get more minutes in an effort to clog the paint.
The absence of Jefferson will also leave a scoring void to fill. While sophomore guard Luke Kennard has been a constant threat for Duke, the rest of the roster has experienced inconsistencies. Jayson Tatum can fill it up, but his inefficiencies have badly hurt the Devils at times. Meanwhile, junior guard Grayson Allen has been spectacular at his best (an incredible 34 points on 12-16 shooting against UNLV) and downright abysmal and petulant at his worst (1-8 shooting and another infamous “trip” against Elon).
Duke are sort of in limbo right now, with coach Mike Krzyzewski sidelined after back surgery and now Jefferson being forced out against the Seminoles with a bruised foot. With so many questions still surrounding the growth of the team and facing a menacing Florida State team on the road, the Blue Devils will need one of their best performances of the year to come out of Tallahassee with a win.