Pump the Brakes: Duke Basketball
For months we’ve heard the hype train that surrounds this season’s Duke Men’s Basketball team. Coach K has three incoming freshmen in R.J Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Zion Williamson that are all surefire lottery picks in next summer’s NBA draft. Potentially the trio could even go 1-2-3. We’ve seen the viral dunks, the prospect videos, and the stat sheets and it’s surely something to be excited about in Durham.
On Tuesday night, the Blue Devils began their season in the Champions Classic against second-ranked Kentucky. Duke, ranked fourth in preseason polls, took it to the Wildcats with no mercy. After the first eight and a half minutes, Coach K’s squad had already leaped out to a 29-10 lead and never looked back. While Kentucky also boasts an impressive freshman class, it was Duke’s diaper dandies who took the show. The Blue Devils went on to beat Kentucky 118 to 84 powered by Barrett’s 33 points, Williamson’s 28, and Reddish’s 22.
Despite both teams being comprised mostly of underclassmen, the game looked like men were teaching little boys a lesson. The 34-point shellacking of the team “ranked” second in the country led to an out pour of overreactions from local and national voices alike. National outlets like USA Today ran articles (Here) discussing the possibility of Duke running the table and going undefeated this season. I’m here to end that discussion now.
DUKE MEN’S BASKETBALL WILL NOT GO UNDEFEATED.
Period. It will not happen. I do not care how good this team is. They could be the greatest assemblage of talent college basketball has ever seen, but they won’t be perfect. They do have an excellent shot at the National Championship but no way, no how, will they go undefeated.
Unlike Kentucky, who nearly went perfectly in 2014-2015, Duke plays in the ACC. No offense to the SEC, but Atlantic Coast Conference is the deepest, most talented conference, from top-to-bottom, in the nation. Not only does Duke have to worry about in-state rivals #8 North Carolina, who they play twice, and Kevin Keats’ NC State team that on the come up. The Devils also must battle two of the best defensive teams in the nation in Virginia and Syracuse, twice each. If somehow Coach K’s club survives those games unscathed, they also have several trap games in their schedule. Mid-week trips to Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Louisville, and Virginia Tech could all trap Duke into an unexpected loss.
One more thing. Blowing out Kentucky under the bright lights isn’t the greatest measuring stick for future success. Yes, Kentucky did have the nation’s second recruiting class. Yes, Kentucky was ranked higher. However, Duke’s super three, especially Zion Williamson have been in the national spotlight for a good while now. Coach K has these kids ready to roll as a high-octane offense now. They must be, or they’ll get demolished in the ACC. On the other hand, Kentucky’s John Calipari has traditionally let his one-and-done laden teams grow together throughout the season. He wants them to experience adversity early so they can build and learn as they progress towards the NCAA Tournament. That’s the opportunity he his afforded playing in the SEC. I’m sure if the two play in March, the result won’t be as lopsided.
I’m not delusional. This Duke team is poised to become one of the greatest of all-time, but they still must play the games and they compete in the toughest conference with the best talent and the best coaches. To say they’ll slip up is not an insult to Duke, it’s a nod to the ACC.