The (Tobacco) Road To The Final Four: Duke’s Grayson Allen Shining

    Duke is back to its winning ways, and Grayson Allen's strong play is a big reason. The Blue Devils star hit seven three pointers against UNC on Thursday night.

    February 11, 2017

    Duke is back to its winning ways, and Grayson Allen’s strong play is a big reason. The Blue Devils star hit seven three pointers against UNC on Thursday night.

    Grayson Allen is playing like the national player of the year candidate that many had expected him to be before the start of the 2016-17 college basketball season.

    The polarizing Duke star, who has dealt with a nagging injury and one-game suspension during his junior season, continued his sizzling play in the No. 19 Blue Devils’ 86-78 win over No. 7 North Carolina on Thursday night in Durham. He scored 25 points, connecting on 7-of-12 3-point attempts, to continue his scorching stretch. Allen’s body language and shooting mechanics have been reminiscent lately of his sensational sophomore year, as he is averaging 21.5 points per game and is 20-of-41 from downtown during his team’s four-game win streak. It’s a confident and hungry star player, something that Blue Devil fans must love to see as we head down the stretch run of ACC play.

    Duke will only go as far as Allen can carry it. He was the anchor and top scoring option last year en route to earning all-ACC first-team honors a season after helping the Blue Devils win a national title while he served as the team’s Energizer Bunny. With the tripping incidents in the rear view mirror, Allen’s passion is now being channeled in the right direction. He is smiling on the court again, which is easy to do when the team is successful. And success is what this team has been enjoying as of late.

    With Mike Krzyzewski back on the bench following back surgery, the Blue Devils are looking much more cohesive as they try to come together and play in unison to prepare for a deep run in March. Allen, Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones are providing a veteran presence, while 6-foot-6 lefty Luke Kennard is having a season that no one could have foreseen, as he put up 20 points against UNC following perhaps his season-saving game-winning shot at Wake Forest. He has been the one constant for the Blue Devils in a tumultuous season. Meanwhile, freshman Jayson Tatum had a sensational second half against the Tar Heels, exploding for 19 points in the final twenty minutes of play. He continued his strong play since being a key cog in Duke’s smaller lineup, which shined in the win over Notre Dame. And fellow first-year player Harry Giles has been a solid contributor as of late.

    Duke G Grayson Allen has been on fire as of late, and that’s dangerous for ACC foes. (Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports)

    With the win over UNC, Duke better positioned itself for a regular season league crown. The standings are shrinking in the ACC, which bodes well for the four-loss Blue Devils. FSU and UNC sit atop the league at 9-3, while Virginia is a half-game behind at 8-3. Syracuse, which is having yet another renaissance, is 8-4. Meanwhile, Duke is tied with Louisville at 7-4. There is time for ground to be made up.

    Even if the Blue Devils are unable to ultimately grab the regular season or postseason ACC title—after all, this is one of the strongest leagues we have ever seen—they are better resembling a national title contender with a confident, aggressive Allen on point. He is driving to the rim more often, and he is making the best of playing the 1—a position that is not natural for his game. Perhaps most importantly, he is displaying a refined maturity on the court.

    Roughly four weeks remain in the regular season, and the trajectory of Duke will be one of the ACC’s top storylines down the stretch.

    …Syracuse is on a roll, which is just par for the course for Jim Boeheim’s bunch. The Orange received a career-high 23 points from freshman guard Tyus Battle in last Saturday’s win over Virginia, and he drilled the game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer on Tuesday night at Clemson. Syracuse has scored 81 points or more in four of its five consecutive wins, with the exception being 66 against the Cavaliers last week. Not too shabby considering the Cavs possess a clamp-down defense. Boeheim has taken his team to two Final Fours in the last four years, including last year’s run—a season in which this scribe did not believe the Orange even deserved to get into The Dance. The 72-year-old has his team believing, and it’s been a treat to watch. The Orange have won five straight ACC games and sit at 16-9 overall.

    …While Virginia is just 2-2 in its last four games, head coach Tony Bennett’s squad remains a very dangerous outfit. The Cavaliers handled Louisville this past Monday night in Charlottesville, as senior London Perrantes scored 18 points and junior forward Isaiah Wilkins added 13 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks in a 71-55 win over short-handed Louisville. The Cavaliers trailed 34-32 at the half but went on a 22-5 second-half run that broke the game open. It’s been another great coaching job from Bennett, who lost seniors Anthony Gill, Malcolm Brogdon, Evan Nolte and Mike Tobey from the squad that fell to Syracuse in the Elite Eight. Additionally, Memphis transfer Austin Nichols was dismissed at the start of the season. He was supposed to be a low-post presence for the Cavs. But it’s been a #nostress season for UVA, which very well could win its third ACC regular season title in four years.

    …Virginia Tech has lost three of its last four games, but do not sleep on Buzz Williams and Co. The Hokies are seemingly a feast or famine team, so it’s tough to know what to expect on a nightly basis. But they can be a tough “out” when they have their “A” game going. VT isn’t a big team, but it’s a versatile one. Zach LeDay and Chris Clarke play bigger than they are, while guards Justin Robinson, Seth Allen, Ahmed Hill and Justin Bibbs can carry this team when they are hot. It’s a sometimes frustrating squad to watch because it is now under .500 in the league, but do not underestimate the Hokies.

    …The 2011 Big East was able to send 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament that year. How many spots will the ACC land this season? No matter the number, this league is at least the strongest we have seen since that ’11 campaign. And the ACC’s bottom-feeders are stronger than those of the Big East in that season. Expect the ACC to send ten teams to The Dance, as leagues such as the A-10, Mountain West, Big Ten and SEC are going through down years.

    Saturday’s best game

    No. 14 Florida State at Notre Dame, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Seminoles travel to the Joyce Center to take on a Fighting Irish squad that is looking to regain its confidence. In the first meeting between these teams on Jan. 18, FSU freshman Jonathan Isaac finished with season highs of 23 points and seven blocks while adding 10 rebounds in an 83-80 victory. Notre Dame was 15 of 21 from 3-point range but still could not pull out the victory. The Irish haven’t been the same since that setback, dropping five of six games. Their four-game skid was finally snapped this past Tuesday in an 88-81 win over Wake Forest. Bonzie Colson had season highs of 27 points and 16 rebounds for his 15th double-double of the year.

    MORE: College Hoops Weekend Primer – Best Games, Bets For Feb. 10-12


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