Sports

Klein ’20: Duke hoops seem above any competition

By
Sports Columnist
Friday, November 9, 2018

College basketball returned earlier this week. For teams hoping to win a national championship though, the season might as well be over already. The Duke Blue Devils are so far ahead of everyone else, it looks like they’re playing a different sport. Coach Mike Krzyzewski has perfected the one-and-done system, gathering the greatest collection of talent that we’ve seen in this era of college hoops. The Blue Devils came into this season only ranked fourth in the country for some unimaginable reason, but they put all doubts to rest on Tuesday night, defeating second-ranked Kentucky by 34 points. The so-called second best team in the country couldn’t compete with Duke for more than six minutes of gameplay. So how exactly does this happen?

Having the consensus number one NBA prospect on the roster helps. R.J. Barrett lived up to all the hype on Tuesday, scoring 33 points on 13 of 26 shooting, adding an additional six assists and four rebounds. Barrett can score with ease at the college level. He’s long — 6’ 7” with a 6’ 10” wingspan — and crafty with his dribble, using long strides to get to the basket. Barrett’s shot isn’t the prettiest in the world, but the ball does go in; he shot three of seven from the perimeter against Kentucky. There’s a natural comparison to make with James Harden here, especially considering that both are lefties — at worst Barrett is a future top-25 NBA player.

Another thing that helps with fielding a championship college basketball team? Having the consensus number two NBA prospect as well. Zion Williamson is famous for his jaw-dropping dunking skills, but he is much more of a complete player than many predicted coming into the season. Williamson, and not Barrett, looked like the best player on the floor against Kentucky, with a mix of size, strength, speed and explosiveness we’ve rarely seen in basketball. The freshman scored 28 points on 11 of 13 shooting with seven rebounds, but his statistics (as incredible as they are) don’t convey what a force he truly is — Williamson jumped higher than anyone else while standing at 6’ 7” and 285 pounds. He’s Charles Barkley 2.0, a larger version of Draymond Green who can leap out of the gym. The rest of the country has no hope of defending him, since Williamson can jump over and push through any college player.

Add another top-five NBA prospect to those two: Cam Reddish. This freshman has been a little left behind in all the buzz between Barrett and Williamson. But Reddish can take over the scoring load for Duke whenever it is necessary. He added 22 points to the Blue Devils’ onslaught on Tuesday, and sparkled defensively with four steals. Reddish is long, 6’ 7” with a 7’ 1” wingspan, and has the potential to become an elite defensive player. He’s perfect for the modern NBA: A true two-way player with mobility up and down the floor. Reddish is widely projected to go third or fourth in the 2019 NBA draft. The first three players chosen might all be Blue Devils.

To make matters worse for other teams, Duke has plenty of depth after its Big Three. Tre Jones, brother of Duke hero and NBA guard Tyus Jones, is another freshman who will have a starting role. A point guard, Jones won’t have to do too much and overextend his game (at times a problem for him in the past) thanks to his talented teammates. He can focus on playing a distributor role, and got off to a good start in his first game with seven assists. If Jones can get more shots to fall — he went 2 of 7 against Kentucky — then he’s the perfect role player to balance out Duke’s star power.

There are veterans on this team who can step up and fill in when needed. Center Marques Bolden, another guy with size, should provide some extra rim protection and shot blocking. The junior will see significantly more playing time than he did during his sophomore season, when he averaged 12.9 minutes per game. Sophomore Alex O’Connell impressed in spurts last year. He’s a three-point shooter extraordinaire, making 48.9 percent of his long-range shots his first year in Durham. O’Connell has a great opportunity to have a big season, moving without the ball and getting tons of open looks thanks to all the defensive attention focused on Barrett, Williamson and Reddish.

To put it simply, Duke is the perfect college basketball team. The Blue Devils have top-tier talent no one else can match: The number one NBA prospect, the number two NBA prospect and potentially the number three NBA prospect. With all due respect to Udoka Azubuike and Kansas, or Rui Hachimura and Gonzaga, Duke has the best players of any contending team, no doubt about it. But to make things even easier come March, Coach K can also fall back on role players who fit in seamlessly with this roster. Enjoy the run, because few teams in the future will be able to match up to what we’re watching right now.

George Klein ’20 can be reached at george_klein@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.