When people talk about Duke, the first thing they’ll talk about is probably Grayson Allen and his tripping. Maybe it’s Luke Kennard and the huge leap he’s taken this season. It could be the health of Coach K. It might even be Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles, two freshmen who may eventually be the key to a potential championship. A program like Duke always has big stories, and even bigger stars.
But the guy nobody ever talks about? Amile Jefferson. The longest tenured Blue Devil doesn’t grab headlines like the other players and their world famous coach can, but Jefferson’s experience and leadership is one of the major keys to Duke’s success.
Jefferson has never been the center of attention. He was the 25th-ranked recruit on ESPN for the class of 2012, a class that was littered with players now doing quite well for themselves in the NBA. (Steven Adams, Sam Dekker, Marcus Smart are just a few of the names.) But just because he isn’t in the NBA already, like some of his former classmates, doesn’t mean he hasn’t had a good college career. He’s had ups and downs, but it seems that this season he’s put the downs in the rear-view mirror for good.
He played around 12 minutes per game as a freshman, never really cracking the true rotation led by Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee. His sophomore season was all about Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. Jefferson averaged six points and six rebounds per game in 22 minutes of play per night. Junior year came along, as did Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow. Additionally, with Duke playing Winslow at the four spot for a bulk of the time, Jefferson’s numbers took a slight dip.
Senior year started great, with Jefferson having an extremely promising start. Through the first nine games he was averaging a double-double (11.4 PPG, 10.3 RPG). Sadly, his season came to an end after those nine games due to a foot injury.
It was starting to look like Jefferson would never reach the heights that the Blue Devils thought he could reach when they brought him in as a top 30 recruit. Luckily enough, the NCAA granted Jefferson a medical hardship waiver and he was allowed to return this season.
To put it simply, his presence has been key for Duke. Coming into the year it was looking increasingly likely he would once again be passed over by a freshman star. This time, Harry Giles. However, due to Giles recovering from knee surgery, Jefferson has played most of the minutes a 4/5 spot. Duke usually going with a four guard lineup means that Jefferson’s rebounding has been a huge key to Duke’s success. While his scoring can be inconsistent, his rebounding and defense make him invaluable to the Blue Devils.
When center Chase Jeter went down with an injury, Duke thought that Harry Giles and Marcus Bolden would be ready to return and replace Jeter. And, maybe even take some of Jefferson’s minutes away once they got things going. That certainly has not been the case, seeing as Giles is still slowly working his way back to being the player scouts thought he was. Bolden rarely sees more than five or six minutes, due to either injury or maybe just not fitting into the system.
The term “glue guy” gets tossed around quite a bit in college basketball. This season, if anyone out there makes their annual “glue guy” column, Jefferson needs to be at the top of the list.
South Carolina at No. 13 Florida—7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Florida is rapidly rising in the rankings and they have held a spot atop the SEC standings all season alongside Kentucky. South Carolina, clearly the third-best team in the conference, will try and catch the Gators off guard before their showdown with Kentucky on Saturday.
Minnesota at No. 24 Maryland—8:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
Melo Trimble and the Terrapins look to rebound after a tough loss at Wisconsin on Sunday. Richard Pitino’s Golden Gophers are on a five-game winning streak after dropping five in a row before that. A road win in College Park would be huge for their tournament resume.
No. 22 Butler at No. 2 Villanova—9:00 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
The defending champions look to avenge one of their two losses this season as they host scrappy Butler. While the Bulldogs are probably tired of the “scrappy” label, they are going to need to claw and fight if they want to pull off another victory over mighty Villanova. On their home court, no less.
No. 7 Louisville at No. 8 North Carolina—9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Likely the best game of the week before the weekend begins, this one should be fun. North Carolina has moved into the one seed line in various bracketology pieces following the weekend. Meanwhile, Louisville will look to steal their thunder in this top ten battle of national title contenders.
USC at No. 4 Arizona—10:00 p.m. ET, PAC 12 Network
Arizona will try and not get caught looking ahead to the weekend blockbuster game against No. 5 UCLA. They host a USC team looking for their second signature win of the season—the first being an eight-point victory over those same Bruins the Wildcats will be hosting Saturday night.
If the Madness Began Today…
If the Tournament started today, these would be the four No. 1 seeds:
South: North Carolina
West: Gonzaga (No. 1 overall seed).
Not much change other than North Carolina coming into the fold and taking Baylor’s spot. The Tar Heels could easily fall right back out if they fall to beat Louisville Wednesday night, which would likely lead to Louisville claiming it.
If Gonzaga does stumble just once, before Selection Sunday, it’ll be very interesting to see if the committee puts a team like Arizona or UCLA ahead of them, seeing as Gonzaga has a very solid resume for a mid-major—they’re far more than that—which includes a win over Arizona.