SELECTION SUNDAY: Duke Takes #1 Overall Seed in the East

Though it seemed to be an open race, the committee has decided that Duke will be at the top spot as we begin the most important three weeks of the season. As the top seed, Duke will face the winner of North Carolina Central and North Dakota State. Were NCCU to win, it would be an all-Durham Round of 64 as the Eagles are in closer proximity than even UNC and share the Bull City with the Blue Devils.

The other teams in the East are #2 seed Michigan State, #3 LSU, #4 VA Tech, #5 Mississippi State, #6 Maryland, #7 Louisville, #8 VCU, #9 UCF, #10 Minnesota, #11 Belmont and Temple (First Four), #12 Liberty, #13 Saint Louis, #14 Yale, and #15 Bradley. There are quite a few under-the-radar teams in this bracket: for example, for weeks Virginia Tech has been without star Justin Robinson but will regain him for the NCAA Tournament. Additionally, UCF has something virtually no one but the American Conference has seen beforeβ€” Tacko Fall, the 7’6” yet mobile center. Like essentially any other, this bracket is no cakewalk to Minneapolis.

Bleed blue. Duke will play one of the two #16’s on Friday at 7:10pm, and as we all learned last year, that game cannot be overlooked.

ACC CHAMPS: Duke Takes Down FSU, 73-63

We now know that at least one banner will hang in the rafters of Cameron Indoor attributed to the success of the 2018-19 Blue Devils: Duke took down the gritty Florida State Seminoles in the ACC Championship, 73-63, behind a triple scoring attack from Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Tre Jones. The tournament was something of redemption for the Blue Devils: having been thwarted by injuries during the regular season, the win against UNC was reprisal for having been swept in the regular season without Zion Williamson. But even more so, they were to prove that not only would Zion return, he would be as magnificent as prior to his injury.

The game itself wasn’t quite as thrilling as the first game, though it was fun: from alley-oop dunks to tomahawks, dunks were abound and epic plays kept Duke solidly ahead, especially in the second half. Florida State made a run towards the end to cut the lead, but Tre Jones silenced it by taking over the game. Tre had one of his best games all year, with 13 of his career-high 18 total points coming in a dominant second half. Scoring was never really a priority for the freshman as he provides elite on-ball pressure and excellent ball distribution, but he torched the lane, somewhat reminiscent of his older brother Tyus in this game. The Stones Jones brothers have a knack for big games like this.

Additionally, RJ Barrett had 17, Zion Williamson had 21, and Cam Reddish had 11. The four freshman combined for more than 90% of the overall scoring.

Zion Williamson also set another record. He passed Art Heyman for the most points scored in the ACC Tournament in one season (3 games). Not much you can say there other than that he has certainly left his mark on the ACC this season.

With the tournament crown, Duke is an automatic bid for the 2019 NCAA Tournament, though it wasn’t unsure in the first place. Bracketology is an inexact science but it appears that Duke has a good shot at the #1 overall seed. However, the seed isn’t important: it’s more about the game-by-game in this tournament. Bleed blue.

Duke Takes Down UNC in an ACC Tourney Thriller

Anybody else here still unable to breathe?

With the injury to Zion Williamson, it never felt quite right in the regular season. While impressive, UNC’s sweep of Duke seemed incomplete without the presence of the great phenom. The question lingered: would it have really happened if Zion had played?

So, after Zion established against Syracuse that he was back at full strength, the hype for this semifinal game of the ACC Tournament reached extremely high levels. And Duke– especially Zion– delivered. Duke took down the Tar Heels in absolutely thrilling fashion, 74-73. Take a wild guess at who had the winning bucket.

It checked about every box: comeback? Duke was down 13 in the first half and came back to tie it before the break. High-scoring? The score may not look the part, but much of the second half was bucket to bucket and it was extremely high-paced. Elite scorers? Well… oh, right. Zion had 31 points. Finally, the game went down to the very last shot.

Duke had some issues. Cam Reddish, Alex O’Connell, and Jack White all were not playing their best. We had moments in which we just looked lost and young on defense. But it all changed the moment two guys stepped on the court. No, it’s not RJ Barrett or Zion Williamson. It’s not even Coach K. Those two guys are Jordan Goldwire and Antonio Vrankovic.

Let’s start with Antonio. It isn’t going to show in the stat sheet, but the energy that he brought was magnificent. He had two points, two assists, and a block. However, the number of shots he affected isn’t present and the energy he brought us won’t show up unless you watch the tape, but it was there.

Now to J-Gold. Nobody has forgotten his amazing play against Louisville; he’s not much of a scorer but brings defensive pressure and is an exceptionally aware player. He did the same thing in Charlotte; additionally, he gave us the lead with under two minutes to play on an easy lay-in after the rebound under our basket slipped through the fingers of Luke Maye. That’s a clutch play in a game where every bucket could have changed the game completely.

Roy Williams said that he became “Superman”. Superman wears Duke blue, unfortunately for Coach Williams alongside the rest of Duke’s opponents. Zion as aforementioned had 31 to go with 11 rebounds, a block, and a steal. He was 13-19 overall and 2-3 from beyond the arc. What an amazing player and what an incredible game from him.

RJ Barrett had 15 points, but was just 33% from the field and 2 of 9 from distance. Meanwhile Tre Jones had 4 assists to go with his 11 points.

While many expected a Duke-UVA Round 3, the Cavaliers were upset by the Florida State Seminoles in the semifinal round and will now face the Blue Devils in the ACC Tournament Championship.

Bleed blue.

Duke Advances In ACC, Defeats Syracuse 84-72

The questions were abound entering this game: Will there be rust for the returning Zion Williamson? What will his effort level be? How will he react to return.

Question answered and done so emphatically. Zion Williamson led the Blue Devils to victory with a major stat sheet-stuffer: 29 points, 14 rebounds, 5 steals, and single block. Seven of those rebounds came on offense. It wasn’t all that pretty, though, as Syracuse kept it painfully close until late in the second half.

Zion was aided in the scoring effort by roommate “The Maple Mamba” (RJ Barrett). RJ had 23, as well as 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal. Tre Jones did well in distributing the ball to scorers with 8 assists to go with 15 point.

It was a rough shooting night for a number of Blue Devils, especially Tre Jones and Cam Reddish. Despite his aforementioned 15 points mostly accumulated on free throws, Tre shot 25% from the field at 3-12. Cam shot slightly better at about 29% or 2-7 from the field and 2-6 from 3.

With this win and the Tar Heels’ win yesterday against Louisville, you guessed it: matchup #3 with our North Carolinian counterparts. This is gonna be good. Bleed blue.

All-ACC and Awards

Nobody’s surprised here. With its high-performing freshmen, it was a Duke party at the ACC awards. All four were awarded in at least one category (five categories for Zion).

Let’s start with Tre. We all know the lockdown defense he’s played. Naturally, he made All-ACC Defensive team but was snubbed for DPOY. That instead went to UVA’s De’Andre Hunter, despite the number of nationally prominent point guards Tre Jones has shut down this season (Shamorie Ponds, Chris Lykes, literally all of Texas Tech because they didn’t want to face him but he figured it out). Despite the snub, Tre got All-ACC Defensive as well as All-Freshman.

This is the one I’m mad about. Cam Reddish was selected for NOTHING. Not even third team. Yes, he plays with the two best players in the country but that shouldn’t allow the omission of his name from these awards with all his accomplishments. Has anybody forgotten this?

https://twitter.com/espn/status1084199481774616577?s=21

Come on. Give him some respect.

On to RJ Barrett. RJ got 21 votes for ROY and 16 votes for POY, though those numbers would have been much larger had Zion not been there. He obviously was on the All-ACC team (almost unanimously) and All-Rookie team.

Now to Zion. Zion Williamson was awarded in ALL of these categories:

1. All-Freshman Team.

2. All-Defensive Team.

3. All-ACC Team.

4. ACC Rookie of the Year

5. ACC Player of the Year

All deserved. All having missed 6 games (minus thirty-six seconds, but be honest with yourself). All rewarding one of the greatest college players of our time.

The ACC tournament begins today. The winner of today’s BC-Pitt game will go on to compete for a spot in the quarterfinal against Duke. Remember, anything can happen in this tourney as the 2017 Blue Devils, a five-seed team having to play four days in a row, won it all.

Some big news pertaining to Selection Sunday: #1 Gonzaga was shocked by St. Mary’s in the WCC Tournament. How far do they fall for the committee? It’s not as though St. Mary’s pulled a fluke as it was a gritty 60-47 win (yeah, the #1 team put up 47). If the committee puts them at a one-seed, though, that two-seed is the most jubilant in the history of this sport.

Bleed blue.

Well-Undermanned Duke Falls Courageously at UNC, 79-70

Fourth-ranked Duke fell to #3 UNC in Chapel Hill, 79-70, but must be commended for an amazing fight missing two starters and being well out-shot. Zion Williamson missed a sixth straight game (counting a month ago against the Tar Heels) but the second major injury came yet again against our fellow North Carolinians. Marques Bolden had an awful fall and had to be supported on both sides leaving the arena. The injury looked horrible as we was on the ground for a number of minutes– the med staff as well as Coach K himself caring for him– but he did support himself coming back to join his teammates on the bench.

The fight we saw from this team tonight was magnificent. Cam Reddish had a great game, RJ Barrett played a ton of time with four fouls, and guys really stepped up on the defensive end. Jack White and Javin DeLaurier did excellently in taking over in the paint in the absence of the two main post defenders and combined for 5 blocks. Duke did as much as possible to fight the heck out of the game and you can imagine how different it might have been with Duke at full strength.

In scoring for Duke, RJ led all scorers with 26 and Cam came second with 23. UNC’s Coby White had 21, while seniors Luke Maye, Kenny Williams, and Cam Johnson combined for 53 in their final game in the Dean Dome.

Coach also said after the game that Zion is “expected back” for the ACC Tournament starting Thursday. With the tournament bracket set, Duke will play either Pitt, Boston College, Syracuse in the quarterfinals. As the 3-seed, the Blue Devils clinched a double-bye a while ago.

Bleed blue.

Hey, Duke fans! If facing some UNC fans that want to talk, remember these things:

  1. UNC has not beaten Duke at full strength, and has lost to UVA, which Duke beat twice.
  2. Both of those wins came when Duke had no time to plan for an injury that would seriously affect them.
  3. Both of those injuries were to starters.
  4. Zion Williamson’s average accounts for more than enough to turn around both scores, not even including his defensive efficiency.
  5. Both Zion Williamson and Marques Bolden play the five, adding up to a serious hole in the paint.

As a person going to school with a ton of UNC fans, I come prepared for these things. I got y’all.

Duke Survives Wake Forest in a Heart-Stopper, 71-70

What a game. What a crazy game. Duke came into the first half with little energy; Coach K described the guys as “giddy” afterwards but simply were outplayed by the Demon Deacons. However, with some crazy events and a bit of good fortune, Duke held on for a 71-70 win on Senior Night. Hats off to Wake Forest for by far the best game they’ve played in a really rough season. The defense wasn’t awful or something; Wake made some very difficult shots and we didn’t have our night but both teams just played their tails off. RJ Barrett was magnificent again and had 28 points.

As previously said, we were hit with a gut punch early on. The first half was played with very little energy; excluding RJ Barrett our team was 6-for-17 from the field. Jack White had two awesome three-pointers (he’d made 5 straight following the 28-streak before missing one) and RJ was getting double teamed and fouled hard (still had 15 points at intermission, though) and that was just about it, save a few plays, for the offense. Wake Forest, on the other hand, played very well and forced us to turn over the ball nine times in the first period of play. Cam Reddish was very limited during the game as 3 offensive charges took him out in the first period after just 8 minutes and a foul with about 9 minutes remaining kept him on the bench for much of the competition. He did contribute 6 points on a night it which he also struggled to put the ball in the basket.

Coming out of halftime, it wasn’t (at first) a patented Duke run but instead a Wake Forest one. Duke went up three on a Tre Jones layup, but Wake Forest immediately went on a 13-0 run. Duke was forced to take a timeout. Finally, that patented run was back and we scored 10 straight. Finally, some life in the building.

It was back-and-forth from there. The end of the game was a heartstopper but so was the injury to Tre Jones, who left for the locker room in the second half for a few very stressful minutes with a knee issue; he would, however return. Marques Bolden did not play for much of the second half because of a hip injury.

I don’t think that I breathed through the last few minutes. Tied 62-62, Alex O’Connell hit a three, a turnover was forced, Tre hit two free throws, and RJ and Brandon Childress traded buckets to give us the 5-point advantage with 1:24 to play. RJ missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and Wake immediately responded with four free throws (all by Chaundee Brown). At 69-68 Duke, RJ made a shot that you just cannot teach from the paint to give us the three-point advantage.

This is where your heart rate goes up if you’re a Duke fan. Brandon Childress makes the layup to make a one-point game with seven seconds on the clock, and then something “inexcusable”, as Coach K put it, happened: Jack White, in attempting to change the inbounder, stepped over the line and turned the ball over right there, underneath the basket. Wake Forest had a shot to win it, and… well, I’ll just let you watch.

Oh. My. Goodness. That was too close.

It should be brought into consideration the number of injuries that we faced throughout the competition. Tre Jones took the energy in the building with him en route to a brief locker room visit in the middle of the second half, of which he would miss relatively significant minutes. Marques Bolden was unavailable (yet another post presence gone) for much of the game with a hip injury. Zion Williamson was yet again unavailable.

But it shouldn’t have been that close. Hopefully, a few days’ rest will get the Blue Devils ready for the upcoming rivalry rematch at UNC on Saturday.

Speaking of UNC and Zion Williamson, it’s been 5 (4.9999) games since we last saw Zion Williamson. UNC is yet to face him. Coach K said in his press conference that he “doesn’t think” Zion will be ready for UNC but later backtracked and said the decision will be made around Friday. Zion began “basketball activities” on Wednesday, but is yet to participate in full contact practice.

Bleed blue. The greatest rivals in basketball will meet again on Saturday. That’s must see. Look for my preview in the upcoming days.