The Duke Blue Devils have struggled for consistency throughout the season and without Amile Jefferson, they will exit March Madness early.

By Jamie Martin

Ever since Amile Jefferson went down with a foot injury in early December, the Duke Blue Devils haven’t been the same team.

They have been exposed on multiple instances due to a lack of depth, and an over reliance on Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram. With young, inexperienced players needing to step up, Duke will struggle to get even remotely close to a repeat of last year’s run.

This Duke team looked promising at the beginning of the season. Despite losing four key players, coach Mike Krzyzewski strengthened his squad with key returners and exciting new recruits.

The freshmen that were brought in were even ranked first among the Nation’s best recruiting classes by ESPN and a late addition of Brandon Ingram brought even greater promise to the Blue Devils prior to the start of this season.

However, despite the many positive factors heading into the year, things have not panned out as expected for the Blue Devils.

Losing Jefferson, an experienced leader and current team captain, damaged both morale and Duke’s ability to win tough games. This loss has also been heightened due to the unexpected struggles of highly-touted recruit Chase Jeter. The freshman forward has struggled to make an impact in limited minutes throughout the season.

The struggles of this Duke team aren’t simply just a depth issue. The Blue Devils also do not have multiple players that want the ball in their hands for the last shot.

Last season, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, and even Quinn Cook all proved that they had the desire and ability to hit shots down the stretch. This season, Grayson Allen has hit his fair share of important buckets, including a game-winning layup against Virginia.

However, even Allen is about the only player who wants that responsibility, and even he has had a decent amount of second-half performance issues.

A true shortage in well-balanced, consistent scoring has left Duke with few options in the latter parts of games. Brandon Ingram and Luke Kennard can both shoot the ball well, but have yet to show the killer instinct that players like Winslow and Jones exhibited in last year’s March Madness.

These difficulties could be seen in last week’s matchup against Notre Dame in the ACC tournament when the Blue Devils gave away a 16 point lead and faltered in overtime. Though Coach K’s team hasn’t been dealt a very dangerous route as the number four seed in the West, athletic teams with height like Baylor will prove to be difficult for the Blue Devils to get past.

In the past few seasons, Duke has failed to put together consistent runs in the tournament. Yes, they did win the National Championship last year which was a great achievement, but in two of the last four postseasons they exited in the first round.

In 2012, with Austin Rivers as the main scorer, Duke lost to CJ McCollum and Lehigh.  as a number two seed. Two years later, in 2014, a team led by Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood was upset embarrassingly as a number three seed by Mercer.

There is no question that losing four important players, three of which were freshmen, can have a huge impact on a Basketball program. This impact was further complicated by the loss of Amile Jefferson at such an early part of the season.

However, it is Duke University and the expectations are always high. With these factors in play, it is difficult to see the current group of players rising to the occasion in the intensity that is March Madness.

Whether the Blue Devils will be shocked by UNC Wilmington in the first round remains to be seen. Regardless of what happens on Thursday, the odds are stacked up against Duke for a run in this year’s tournament.

Prediction: Loss against Baylor in the second round

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Jamie Martin is an aspiring sports journalist who covers the MLB, MLS, and the English Premier League. He is a huge fan of the New York Yankees and Manchester United.