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Questions surround Blue Devils’ health as ACC tourney begins

Duke Notebook

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Still dealing with injuries to Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson, Chase Jeter and Marques Bolden, Duke has put together a patchwork effort all season trying to plug holes in the lineup with healthy guys.

Freshman Frank Jackson has been filling in for Allen at point guard of late, starting Saturday night’s regular-season finale at North Carolina to let Allen ease his way into the game. For most of the first half and the beginning of the second, Allen appeared to have more of his attacking nature back but it’s clear he’s still not the same player he was before the turf toe and hamstring issues that have plagued him all year.

While Jefferson is back to playing his normal quota of minutes, he’s lacking the bounce that has made him one of the best rebounders in Duke history. Having a break from Saturday to Wednesday will be big for those guys to get some rest and rehabilitation, but playing multiple games on consecutive days during the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament could negate any rest they got before play starts in Brooklyn.

The No. 14-ranked Blue Devils open postseason play Wednesday after receiving a bye for the first day of action. Duke, the No. 5 seed, will take on No. 12 Clemson, a 75-61 winner over No. 13 N.C. State on Tuesday, in a rematch against a team that the Blue Devils beat 64-62 on Feb. 11 in Durham. Plenty of questions surround Duke as it bids for its 20th ACC championship but first since 2011.

With the potential for four games in four days, will head coach Mike Krzyzewski utilize his bench players more to allow for his starters to get rest? They’ve been going basically seven deep of late, with Jackson and fellow freshman Harry Giles the two reserves getting the most minutes. Will Bolden see more minutes? Is Jeter healthy enough to give some guys a rest?

SKIDDING DOWN THE STRETCH

Duke has lost three of its last four games to finish the regular season 23-8 overall and 11-7 in ACC play, but it almost feels like the Blue Devils are getting better as a team despite the results. The 78-75 loss Feb. 22 at Syracuse felt like a fluke with the Orange’s John Gillon draining a long 3-pointer at the buzzer for the win.

Without Allen against Miami three days later, the team lacked offensive firepower in a 55-50 loss in Coral Gables, Florida. Losing to a team like North Carolina in the rivalry is never too much of a knock, and the win over Florida State the week before likely soothed any concerns from Associated Press poll voters that Duke is experiencing a slide. Even after its 90-83 loss Saturday to UNC in Chapel Hill, Duke’s 75-70 win over then No. 15 FSU in Cameron Indoor Stadium helped the Blue Devils move from 17th to 14th in the rankings.

Still, losing can become contagious so a fresh start heading into the postseason could be very good for this group. The last time Duke lost three of four games (in mid-January) it followed that by rattling off seven straight wins. If the Blue Devils want to do the same this time around, they need to be in that 0-0 record mentality and rip the Band-Aid off the regular season.

With a No. 2 seed the highest ceiling and a 5 seed the likely floor, a win over Clemson would almost certainly move that floor up to a No. 4 seed. Beating No. 10-ranked Louisville in the quarterfinals Thursday would put Duke in a strong position to be a 3 seed.

KNOX RETURNS TO DUKE AND UNC

Five-star senior forward Kevin Knox visited UNC for the Duke game Saturday before heading over to Durham and spending a couple of hours with the Blue Devils coaching staff. Knox is down to Duke, Florida State, Kentucky and North Carolina, and is targeting a decision just after the Final Four. While he’s long been considered a Duke lean, there are some rumors behind the scenes that UNC may have pulled ahead down the stretch. Both schools are pitching Knox in a versatile forward role that Jayson Tatum and Justin Jackson played this season.

FOOTBALL LANDS 4TH COMMITMENT

Three-star offensive lineman Casey Holman of Snellville, Georgia committed to Duke on Monday afternoon, choosing the Blue Devils over offers from Auburn, USC, North Carolina and many more. Duke continues to mine the Peach State for exceptional talent, and especially on the offensive line.

Next season, Duke will have three offensive tackles on the roster — Robert Kraeling, Patrick Leitten and Jacob Rimmer — who all hail from the state of Georgia and committed to Duke over numerous SEC offers.

Adam Rowe covers Duke basketball, football and recruiting for 247Sports.com. Check out more of his work at duke.247sports.com.

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