Duke hits its stride at the perfect time


Duke looked like one of the nation’s best teams when it ripped off 10 consecutive wins entering ACC play.

A rough January, complicated by a host of setbacks — including Grayson Allen’s suspension, Mike Krzyzewski’s back surgery and Amile Jefferson’s bruised foot — nearly knocked the Blue Devils out of the Top 25.

Yet here we are halfway through February, with Selection Sunday just a few weeks away, and the Blue Devils are again playing like a team that can make it to the first weekend of April.

Duke’s 65-55 win at Virginia increased the Blue Devils’ winning streak to six games, improving their overall record to 21-5 and their ACC mark to 9-4.

That puts Duke one game behind ACC-leading North Carolina, tied with Louisville and Florida State for second place in the league standings.

After dealing with injuries and playing without Krzyzewski for seven games, Duke can now put a formidable lineup on the court.

The Blue Devils have three perimeter players who’ve shown the ability to score 20 points — or more — at any time.

Jayson Tatum scored 20 points when Duke beat North Carolina last week. The 6-8 freshman hit his career high with 28 points, including 21 in the second half, at Virginia.

Luke Kennard has been Duke’s most consistent player this season and he still leads the Blue Devils with a 20-point scoring average.

Grayson Allen shoot poorly at Virginia, but one week earlier he scored 25 in the win over UNC.

Inside, Jefferson is back in Duke’s starting lineup. He’s not 100 percent, because his right foot remains sore and lacks some of his usual quickness and explosiveness inside.

Krzyzewski said there’s no more important player to the Blue Devils than Jefferson. But, just in case, 6-11 freshman Harry Giles is getting more comfortable taking on increased playing time.

Giles played 19 minutes at Virginia, producing five points, three rebounds and two steals. He looked like a player ready for more minutes.

So Duke has reliable perimeter scoring and growing depth inside. Krzyzewski is back on the bench, having led Duke to four consecutive wins since his return on Feb. 4.

The Blue Devils were slotted as a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament selection committee’s in-season bracket reveal last Saturday. That was before Duke won at Virginia. Bovada’s latest NCAA tournament odds, released on Friday, have Krzyzewski’s squad listed at 5-1.

The Blue Devils are now, finally, firmly among the nation’s top teams.