Abridged Game Preview
Duke Blue Devils (15-6, 4-4 (9th)] vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets [12-9, 4-4 (12th)]
Tuesday, February 2, 2016 • 9:00 PM • ESPNU • Atlanta, GA • McCamish Pavilion
By Randy Dunson [Note: Please direct comments, suggestions, etc. to @RandyDunson.]
A Major Streak Comes to an End
The latest Associated Press top 25 poll is out, and for the first time since the final poll of the 2006-07 season, Duke is not in it.
The exclusion snaps the Blue Devils’ streak of 157 consecutive weeks as a ranked team, the fifth-longest streak in history. The Blue Devils played just one game last week, an 80-69 loss at Miami, and have lost four of their last five games. They next play at Georgia Tech on Tuesday night (9 PM, ESPNU) and then against North Carolina State on Saturday afternoon. Duke then plays four games in a row against ranked teams.
Duke was not included in the final poll of the 2006-07 season after losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament to VCU, its fourth straight loss to end the season. The Blue Devils also dropped out of the poll on February 13 of that year following another four-game losing streak.
No. 7 Kansas now owns the longest active streak in the nation with 136 consecutive weeks as a ranked team, followed by No. 23 Arizona at 72 straight weeks.
Duke began the season ranked fifth but has been plagued by depth issues, thanks mostly to the broken foot suffered by senior forward Amile Jefferson on December 12. On Monday, Coach Mike Krzyzewski said Jefferson is moving forward with his recovery but is not yet ready to return.
“He’s doing a little bit on the court, but we would put him in harm’s way, I think, in putting him to where he’s really playing,” Krzyzewski told reporters. “There’s progression. Whenever you have some progression, you have to see what that little bit does to his recovery. Does it knock him back? We’re in that process now. “It’s been a long seven weeks.”[Writer’s Note: As I noted in a preview shortly after Amile’s injury, I would not expect him back until the NCAAs.]
As an aside, in January, the Duke women’s team dropped out of the AP poll for the first time in 16 years and 312 straight weeks.
Duke never has been an easy opponent for Georgia Tech. Now the Yellow Jackets have to play a well-rested Duke team that has had eight days of rest and will be no doubt be focused after being left out of the national rankings for the first time since 2007.
It will be up to Tech to add to the Blue Devils’ misery, which includes four losses in their past five games. That would require bucking a trend. The Yellow Jackets have lost eight straight to Duke and haven’t beaten the Blue Devils since 2010.
Duke (15-6, 4-4) took a hit when senior forward Amile Jefferson was ruled out indefinitely with a right foot injury suffered in December. He was averaging a double-double (11.4 points, 10.3 rebounds) at the time of the injury.
Duke still has plenty of talent. The Blue Devils have freshman guard Brandon Ingram who averages 17.1 points and 6.5 rebounds and leads all ACC freshmen with four double-doubles. They have freshman guard Luke Kennard, who averages 12.1 points, and junior Matt Jones, who averages 12.3 points and never seems to turn it over. Ingram and Kennard were McDonald’s All-Americans. In addition, Grayson Allen is averaging 20.3 points and is on pace for the best scoring increase in ACC history, a gain of 15.9 points.
Georgia Tech (12-9, 2-6) would like to keep the game within reach, something that hasn’t happened lately against Duke. The Yellow Jackets lost by only six points a year ago but have lost the past eight meetings by an average of 14 points.
The Yellow Jackets, however, have played close games his season. Including Saturday’s three-point loss at Syracuse, their six ACC setbacks have been by an average of 4.8 points.
Tech coach Brian Gregory cited two areas of improvement that the Yellow Jackets need to focus on in order to close out some of those close games, finishing the fast break and more efficiency around the rim.
Other than Marcus Georges-Hunt, the Yellow Jackets don’t have a dependable closer on the break.
Even though Tech has a very capable frontcourt that could very well hurt Duke, I believe that the Devils will regain their focus and bring home a road win.