Observations: Duke’s Amile Jefferson is Blue Devils’ MVP so far this season

Amile Jefferson is Duke’s most valuable player

Grayson Allen may be the Blue Devils’ best scorer and Brandon Ingram may be their best NBA prospect.

But nobody is more important to this edition of Duke than Jefferson.

The 6-9 power forward had eight points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, and three blocks in Wednesday night’s 20-point victory of Indiana and completely controlled the game on the interior from start to finish.

Mike Krzyzewski told CBS Sports over the summer that Jefferson’s contributions against Wisconsin in last year’s national title game were a major reason why Duke was able to win a fifth championship last April. The Philadelphia native is now picking up where he left off.

Jefferson (11.3 points, 10.3 rebounds) didn’t start last season as a junior, but is currently playing like an All-ACC player as a senior.

This is another example of good things happening to a player who honors the process by staying at the same school rather than transferring early in his career because he’s not having as large of a role as he initially hoped for.

Louisville showed its worth in loss to Michigan State

The Cardinals have answered the bell.

Many people including myself how Louisville would respond against a legitimate opponent and it responded like a team that’s going to finish in the top third of the ACC.

Rick Pitino’s squad didn’t beat Michigan State in East Lansing on Wednesday night, but it took the Spartans to the wire behind a combined 44 points from two fifth-year transfers in Trey Lewis and Damion Lee.

Pitino is the best defensive coach in the sport and his teams always have a way of getting better as the season progresses.

With Lewis and Lee anchoring the offense and Quentin Snider steering the ship from the point guard spot, look for Louisville to again be a factor when it matters most — March.

The Cardinals are now 5-1 overall after the four-point loss at Michigan State and will only have one true tough non-conference test remaining before league play: Dec. 26 vs. Kentucky at Rupp Arena.

UCLA can make a statement Thursday against Kentucky

Steve Alford came to Westwood to coach in big games and they get no bigger than a home-and-home series with the Wildcats.

Pauley Pavilion will be the focal point of college basketball Thursday as two of the sport’s most fabled programs — UCLA and Kentucky — take center stage in a game that the Bruins need a lot more than the Wildcats.

UCLA is currently 4-3 after seven games and still has to play a road game at Gonzaga and a neutral site game against North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic at the Barclays Center on Dec. 19.

The Bruins need this game.

They need it bad.

After an opening night loss to upstart Monmouth, UCLA went 1-2 at the Maui Invitational and now is looking to build some momentum before conference play.

Alford’s teams always seem to peak gradually throughout the course of the year and last season the Bruins began 8-5 overall in the non-conference portion of the schedule before finishing in the Sweet 16 despite only having eight scholarship players.

The big difference in this year’s UCLA team and last year’s UCLA team?

There’s nobody on the Bruins’ roster that you can look at and identify as a sure-fire first or second round draft pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.

Last year UCLA had two: Kevon Looney and Norman Powell.

To beat Kentucky you generally need at least two pros.

Will UCLA be able to offset that?

We’ll find out Thursday in Westwood.

This Just In

Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis (elbow) will be a game-time decision tonight against UCLA, John Calipari told CBS Sports. Ulis did practice some yesterday according to Calipari. He did not play in Monday’s win over Illinois State at Rupp Arena.

Amile Jefferson (USATSI)
Duke’s Amile Jefferson had 8 points and 11 rebounds vs. Indiana. (USATSI)

This and That

Kris Dunn’s games at Providence this year are like an episode of Seinfeld in its prime: if you miss one you’re going to regret it. The 6-4 point guard had a triple double — 16 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds — to go along with three steals in Thursday night’s win over Sacred Heart.

Wisconsin looked lost on Sunday in a 17-point loss at Oklahoma. Last night it beat undefeated Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. This is college basketball folks. Good luck filling out your brackets next March — you’ll need it!

Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey is quietly playing as well as any freshman guard in the country. The 6-4 guard isn’t getting the same amount of attention as guys like Kentucky’s Jamal Murray, but he should be. Dorsey is averaging 14.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 3.0 assists while shooting 51.0 percent from the field and 46.4 percent from 3-point range. Dana Altman’s team is 6-0 and next faces UNLV on Friday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Joel Berry has made a significant leap for North Carolina. Last season as a freshman Berry averaged 4.2 points and 1.5 assists in 13.2 minutes. Now as a sophomore he’s averaging 11.9 points and 3.9 assists. This is a critical piece for the Tar Heels, who need Berry as a secondary ball handler that can take pressure off Marcus Paige.

The scary thing about Purdue? The Boilermakers are shooting 39.2 percent from 3-point range as a team. That means that this team’s interior players — A.J. Hammons, Isaac Haas, and Caleb Swanigan — are all going to be often times single covered in the low post because if you double team them you’re going to leave a capable shooter open for a jumper. It’s really tough not to be bullish on this basketball team.

The door is open for Dusan Ristic is emerge as a legitimate factor for Arizona . The Wildcats are going to be without starting center Kaleb Tarczewski (ankle) for four-to-six weeks and now it’s on Ristic to stabilize things in the low post. Sean Miller raved about the 7-footers progress during the off-season and now it’s his time to shine. Ristic is currently averaging 5.7 points and 6.1 rebounds for Arizona.

Texas’ Eric Davis has separated himself as the Longhorns’ best freshmen and is already one of this team’s best players. Blessed with an uncanny feel and an IQ beyond his years, Davis knows to how to read situations and pick his spots against defenses. The 6-2 Davis is averaging 10.5 points while shooting 45.7 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from 3-point range.

Mikal Bridges is turning into a reliable reserve for Villanova. The redshirt freshman had 11 points in 18 minutes on Tuesday night against Saint Joseph’s and is averaging 6.6 points on the season. The 6-7 Bridges is a versatile talent that blends well with the Wildcats’ deep assortment of guards because he doesn’t need the ball to have an impact on the game. Bridges can finish at the rim and be right in the middle of tips and deflections. Jay Wright’s team is 7-0 and next plays Oklahoma in Hawaii next Monday.

You want efficiency? All five of Iowa State’s starters are shooting 47.7 percent or better from the field while averaging a minimum of 13.7 points. That’s ridiculous. The Cyclones are old, confident, and battle tested. This looks like an Elite Eight caliber team — at least.

Malik Pope has only scored in double-figure once in San Diego State’s first eight games (he’s played in seven). Steve Fisher’s team needs this 6-10 volcano to erupt more — if he has it in him. Pope is currently averaging 5.8 points and 4.8 rebounds.

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