Grayson Allen's indefinite suspension lasted one game. The Duke guard was back on the floor Wednesday night in the Blue Devils' blowout win over Georgia Tech. Our panel debates whether that was the right call, how Mike Krzyzewski's absence for back surgery will impact the team and more.
1. Do you agree with Mike Krzyzewski's decision to lift Grayson Allen's suspension after just one game?
Myron Medcalf: C'mon. One game is a joke. One game is a bigger joke than Mariah Carey's performance on New Year's Eve. And let's separate this from Krzyzewski's upcoming surgical procedure. First, we all wish him well. That's a serious matter that could sideline him for a lengthy portion of the 2016-17 season. Why does that matter here? That's no excuse to give Allen a lighter sentence. It's not hard for Coach K to say, "Grayson Allen is suspended for three games." Associate head coach Jeff Capel handled questions about Tiny Gallon taking $3,000 from a financial adviser during his time at Oklahoma. He could deal with anyone asking about Allen's suspension. There are benefits, however, to playing for Krzyzewski. People trust his judgment. He has an aura. If Quentin Snider had tripped three people and earned a one-game suspension on the third trip, however, the haters would pounce on him and Rick Pitino. If Malik Monk had done this and Kentucky had responded this way? John Calipari would never hear the end of it. We've all been punk'd here. Still, if the ACC refused to make a decision and take the matter out of Duke's hands, why would anyone trust the Blue Devils to offer anything beyond one of the shortest indefinite suspensions in college basketball history? This is the best outcome for the program. The Blue Devils don't care what the rest of us think about it. That's fine.
John Gasaway: One game is too short for an "indefinite" suspension, and definitely not long enough for someone who has tripped opposing players on three separate occasions within the past 12 months. Then again Mike Krzyzewski or anyone else at Duke isn't going to agree with me on this one. The real problem is the decision here was made in Durham instead of being handed down from Greensboro, at the ACC's offices, or even from Indianapolis, where the NCAA resides. So be it.
Dana O'Neil: In a normal circumstance, I would not. At the very least sitting one game per trip victim seems like a reasonable punishment. But these aren't normal circumstances at Duke. While I still think Allen could have sat while his coach recovered from back surgery, I at least understand Krzyzewski's motivation. Capel has a lot on his plate, navigating a one top-ranked team still trying to combine all of its parts through the tricky waters of the ACC. If, as Krzyzewski told Jay Bilas, his intent is to be smart and truly stay away, he would not be present for the day-to-day actions or conversations with Allen and instead would leave Capel with the mess of the length of Allen's suspension without empowering him to change it.
Jeff Borzello: In a vacuum, I would. When the trip first happened, I thought one game would have been enough -- and still think so. However, when the statement reads "suspended indefinitely" and then Allen returns immediately following a loss, it's a public perception issue. Duke could have beaten Georgia Tech and Boston College without Allen, and then brought him back, and I think the outcry regarding the length of his suspension would have been far more subdued. The issue that complicates it all is Krzyzewski's injury and Capel taking over. Allen's suspension would have been just one more distraction that Duke really doesn't need without Krzyzewski on the sideline.
2. What will be the biggest issue for Jeff Capel coaching this team going forward as Coach K steps away for back surgery?
Medcalf: If the Blue Devils shoot the way they did against Georgia Tech on Wednesday -- 1.55 points per possession -- Capel's biggest issue might be finding the right umbrella when the rain starts. Capel is still dealing with a team in flux. Allen is back. Harry Giles is working his way into the rotation and maturing into the player most expected to see when he was the top high school prospect in America before his second ACL tear. Now Krzyzewski is gone. It may take time for his team to get comfortable with his voice as the primary source of direction. It will also take time for Capel to get comfortable as a head coach again. That's a difficult process for any new coach, but the challenges attached to this transition -- challenges Krzyzewski was still navigating prior to his hiatus -- complicate Capel's job.
Gasaway: The main issue for Capel will be simply defining this team's identity. Throw a stick at the top 25 and you won't hit a more ambiguous situation. What's the optimal rotation for Duke? What role is Giles going to play? What are the Blue Devils' go-to skills? These questions are still up in the air in January. Teams like, say, Kentucky, Villanova or Kansas already know who they are, for better or worse, but Capel will be at the helm for the crucial stretch where this finally gets sorted out.
O'Neil: Defense. Yes, the Blue Devils just held Georgia Tech to 55 points -- but that's Georgia Tech. Duke has to become a better and a more consistent defensive team if it's going to be as good as it truly can be. The Blue Devils have excuses -- Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden really are just beginning their collegiate seasons -- but they don't have the luxury of time. They need to work together to become smarter defensively and do it in a hurry.
Borzello: Getting all the pieces to fit. Duke is supremely talented, the most talented team in the country when healthy. But it hasn't really come together yet -- until Wednesday's night win over Georgia Tech. Even in that game, five-star freshman Bolden played just 15 minutes and a Coach K favorite, Matt Jones, played 19 minutes. Chase Jeter didn't even dress. In a closer game, do those guys hit double-figure minutes? Could that be an issue? No one is going to complain after a 53-point win, but keeping everyone happy is going to be key for Capel.
3. Do you take anything extra away from Duke's 53-point win over Georgia Tech? Sign of team putting it together? The emotions of Coach K's last game before surgery and Grayson Allen's return? The Yellow Jackets are bad? Or something else?
Medcalf: I think it was a combination of Duke's high-powered offense assembling a breathtaking performance and Georgia Tech returning to earth after its how-did-that-happen win over North Carolina. Josh Pastner's squad had lost two of its three previous road games by 30 points combined. Georgia Tech is one of the worst offensive teams in the country. A top-50ish defense and overachieving offense helped Georgia Tech secure wins over VCU and the Tar Heels, both rare cases. The best Duke against the worst Georgia Tech on Wednesday? A 53-point gap makes sense.
Gasaway: The main thing I take away from this blowout -- in addition to the fact that the Yellow Jackets are bad, and it's inconceivable that North Carolina lost to these guys by double digits -- is Giles getting seven offensive boards in just 17 minutes. Sure, Georgia Tech's been terrible on the defensive glass all season long, but that is still one highly suggestive performance from the freshman. If he can record big minutes alongside Amile Jefferson and if both Blue Devils get offensive rebounds, we may have a whole new ballgame on our hands.
O'Neil: Not much, really. I'm still stunned that Georgia Tech beat North Carolina. So this seems more like a return to the Georgia Tech mean than anything. Duke, coming off an embarrassing loss at Virginia Tech, in the comfy confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium, with the Blue Devils coach about to leave and their star player returning, had all sorts of emotional boosts to cover them through a game against a team not nearly as talented as Duke. Sure, that could be the sort of boost this team needed to get organized, but it also could be a false sense of security.
Borzello: I think a lot of it is Georgia Tech being bad, especially away from home. The Yellow Jackets already lost by 23 at Tennessee and 17 at Georgia, so blowouts on the road aren't exactly new to Pastner's team. Them beating North Carolina is going to go down as one of the season's biggest stunners. It was also Duke's first game with a remotely healthy, close to full complement of parts. Allen was back from his suspension, Giles started for the first time after playing just 23 minutes all season, Tatum looks fully healthy, Bolden is getting minutes off the bench. Remember, Allen was banged up earlier this season -- a game off might have helped him get back to 100 percent. I also think Duke was a little more motivated coming off the loss to Virginia Tech.
4. If you are Mike Krzyzewski, what do you hope to see from your team when you come back, presumably in a month, that you aren't seeing now?
Medcalf: The 2014-15 Blue Devils were young at multiple positions, but they were also cutthroat. Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen did not back down in a national title game against a Wisconsin squad stacked with veterans. If I'm Krzyzewski, I'd want to see that same fire from the young players on the current roster. A sense of urgency. A toughness. Duke went for the KO against Georgia Tech. That's the attitude Duke will need to reach its ceiling.
Gasaway: If I'm Coach K, when I come back I want to see Allen no longer tripping people (seriously), Luke Kennard still running amok and Tatum hitting 3s. Assuming those three guys are all available, level-headed and reliably excellent, you're looking at a Duke team that's doing pretty much what everyone expected the Blue Devils to do when this group was voted an overwhelming No. 1 in the preseason.
O'Neil: Better defense, and freshmen who seem to finally be playing like everyone expected. The first is harder than the second, but the second is equally important. Giles, Tatum and Bolden need nothing more than time, but growing up in the heat of conference season isn't easy. Still if Duke is going to be the machine everyone expected that trio needs to start playing consistently like the top-rated players we all expected. It also would be nice that, if while Krzyzewski is away, Allen keeps his feet to himself.
Borzello: A team hitting on all cylinders, basically. Capel will likely pare it down to an eight-man rotation, regardless of whether Jeter and Javin DeLaurier dress, and get some answers regarding roles and minutes. The perimeter trio of Allen, Tatum and Kennard is matched by very few teams across the country, and when they're all playing well, Duke will be nearly impossible to beat. Giles will continue to get healthy, Jefferson will continue to push for double-doubles every night -- and Frank Jackson, Jones and Bolden will play key roles off the bench. In one month, if everyone is healthy and playing to their potential, Duke will resume being the clear title favorite.