With both electrifying play and persona, Zion Williamson has collected accolades across the board in college basketball; now, his stock of awards includes one that spans all college athletics. ESPN awarded him Best College Athlete for the 2018-2019 year as expected. Zion Williamson is no longer simply a basketball star, but has been for a while an ambassador of our sport to the world.
Congratulations, yet again, to Zion on one of the most incredible college years we’ve been lucky enough to witness. New Orleans has gained a phenomenal young player and man and he’ll always be part of The Brotherhood.
First of all, I’d like to apologize. I’ve been absent of late as I’ve been sick all week and in my schedule I’ve just been quite off in the past few days. I’m not a professional blogger and I do have to go to school, so I usually do my blogging in the early morning and that wasn’t available to me under my conditions. I’m sorry to have been absent but hopefully I’ll be able to stay healthy and continue my season coverage.
First of all, Duke did fall to the Tar Heels in Cameron by a score of 88-72, but not without one 6 foot 7 inch hole: yes, Zion Williamson is injured. It’s not as bad as initially feared: it’s a Grade 1 knee sprain, meaning his MCL is less than 25% torn. As the MCL could have been completely torn it’s certainly a relief for both Duke and Zion, who’s counting on his name being called #1 at the NBA Draft this year. Zion’s injury is huge news worldwide and our #1 concern currently.
Now, on to the Syracuse game. This was a very impassioned game on the Orange’s side as longtime coach Jim Boeheim returned after Wednesday’s car accident that killed Jorge Jiminez after Syracuse’s win at Louisville. Boeheim was visibly emotional when he was introduced to a standing ovation given by the largest crowd, over 35,000, in college basketball history. Coach K spoke on the incident later on:
Such an emotional time because Jim has created a program here and a family. Going through this situation, the whole family goes through it, and I could feel it, it felt so good for him. The outpouring of emotion was so good. I mean, he’s my dear friend, and I was able to spend a few minutes with him before the game. He looks strong, and I’m glad he coached.
Between that, the incredibly huge crowd, and Zion’s absence (he did not play), a young Duke squad was vulnerable to distraction. Duke did, however, take care of business on the road for a ten point win at the Carrier Dome. RJ Barrett scored 30 points, but the big story scoring-wise in the second half was Alex O’Connell. Alex got hot and shot 5-8 from deep to go for a career-high 20 points, including a 4-point play that kept Duke from falling behind late in the first half. It was something that changed the flow of Duke’s offense because as Syracuse was forced to guard Alex closely, that opened holes in the zone for other players to get their shot. RJ could not be stopped in the middle of the 2-3; it’s just uncommon that you find a player that can do that kind of thing.
The defense did well enough with the exception of the last part where you rebound it. We were just killed on the boards, allowing 19 offensive rebounds and 19 second-chance points to match. Too many times it felt like the ball just slipped through someone’s hands; being strong to and with the ball will be a focus for the next couple days as we prepare for a gritty Virginia Tech team that’s got the big men to hurt you in the paint with those rebounds.
A big development in this game was the sudden entry of Joey Baker. Baker reclassified late to play with this year’s team and it was expected that he’d redshirt as he had not played 26 games into the season. Coach K is apparently looking for perimeter shooting; Baker is his guy. The move has been somewhat criticized but I trust Coach. Joey is a 6-7 forward but is mostly known as a sharpshooter; as mentioned earlier, the more outside threats we have, the more space RJ has to operate on the inside. He killed the inside of that 2-3 and Alex knocked down shots when the zone collapsed on RJ.
Bleed blue. Our schedule is mean: Zion’s unlikely to play on Tuesday and we have to turn around for another road game in Blacksburg. Fun.
It’s the greatest rivalry in basketball without question and it revives tonight at the #1 Duke Blue Devils meet the #8 UNC Blue Devils in what is probably the biggest regular season matchup of the year for pretty much any team. The hype is there– even a former president is rumored to be attending and ticket prices are reportedly, at minimum, currently $2,927– but the game, at least on our side, may even be better.
Duke is currently on a big high ride. Since losing to Syracuse at home a few weeks ago, we’ve beaten UVA, gotten Tre Jones, beaten a bunch of teams in the ACC including a St. John’s squad that’s proven itself against high-level competition (and it wasn’t close), defeated UVA again, on the road, and then come back from a 23-point deficit to defeat #16 Louisville (also on the road). This whole season feels like a high ride currently.
UNC is good. That’s what I’ll say. They probably feel undervalued in our shadow, but that doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous.
Coby White has been an absolute star this year: he’s sometimes a bit up-and-down but he’s shown the ability to do it on the big stage– and as previously stated, he’ll be just there. White has scored over 30 on two occasions and is the main weapon on offense for the Tar Heels, though his average is a lower 15.7, at least in comparison. In addition, he’s a capable if inexperienced point guard– though an assist-to-turnover ratio that stands just over 1.5 isn’t terribly flattering. On Duke’s side, Tre Jones looks to shut him down– something he’s done to other star players, such as St. John’s Shamorie Ponds, one of the best in the country. Ponds did not score until the second half with Tre guarding him. He is something of the likes White is yet to see and we’ll see how he handles this new pressure.
The assist-to-turnover ratio as aforementioned hasn’t been flattering for much of any of the Tar Heels; turnovers have been a problem and that’s not something you want entering a matchup with Duke. We force an unusual number of turnovers on good ballhandling teams; UNC will have to limit the live-ball turnovers because once that ball is in RJ Barrett’s hands and the court is open wide, it’s a done deal.
On the other side of the court for the Tar Heels, figuring out how to try to defend Zion Williamson is one big “dadgummit” for Roy Williams. Williams heaped (deserved) praise on him for a good bit of a press conference a few days ago: “Name somebody else that’s got that skillset that he has because in the college game I’ve never seen it.” He continued to talk about Zion’s combo of size and athleticism; the question is how to defend it. Carolina doesn’t have a Virginia-like inside presence; heck, most teams don’t have that, however, it means it won’t be able to do what Virginia could in jamming the inside while giving up exterior shots. Technically they could, however it’s unlikely to be as fruitful and based on how we shot in Charlottesville (hint hint, big stage, hint hint), you don’t want to leave that open either. It’s a tall order.
We know our guys love the big stage. Time to see it in action.
Bleed blue. It’s Duke-Carolina and as much backdrop as you can give, it comes down to this:
Who wants it most?
Bleed blue. OUR blue.
Note: I’ve just realized that I didn’t hit “publish”! So sorry for the late preview! Go Duke.
After a hard-fought win in Charlottesville on Saturday, Duke will turn around for another very good team in another hostile atmosphere: #16 Louisville. The Cardinals, while plagued by the issues of their past, are very good this year as Chris Mack has turned around a program that looked like it may just fall off a cliff. It will be a difficult game and we need to bring the same intensity that we did against UVA.
Also, RJ and Cam are blazing hot. Just FYI.
Game Notes: Duke Blue Devils at Louisville Cardinals
**UPDATE: Most sources have said that Ty Jerome will suit up for Virginia tonight; however, the likelihood that he will be 100% is low.**
The last time these two forces of the NCAA met, the questions mostly swirled on Duke’s side, while UVA remained relatively in balance. Tre Jones had just been injured and the Syracuse loss was hot on everybody’s minds as we’d looked lost without him. Duke, however, pulled out a close 72-70 win and the offense rolled smoothly with RJ Barrett at point guard. Virginia looked disoriented despite having all of its troops; the electric atmosphere created by the Cameron Crazies was sure to have been a factor.
Duke will try to recreate some of that, minus the Crazies, in Charlottesville tonight as we meet the Cavaliers again. Unfortunately, Virginia may also be short a point guard tonight as Ty Jerome is listed as day-to-day after being held out for a “sore back” against Miami last week. Many have said that his presence changes thngs a lot, and for the ‘Hoos, yes, they do. But people do forget that Duke handled a fully healthy UVA just a few weeks ago without our most impactful player on the court. UVA has not seen what Tre Jones does to a game and I think that will be a big factor tonight.
One thing has to hold true for the Blue Devils today: despite the fact that RJ and Zion have shown that they’re able to handle the pack-line, we need Cam Reddish and Jack White to shoot the three well and intelligently today. Not forcing up shots– goodness no, as that’s how Virginia suffocates people– but good shots.
There is, of course, the home court advantage for Virginia. It’s not that much of a difference as Duke thrives in these atmospheres, but at least the Wahoos won’t have to hear deafening screams about UMBC and Kyle Guy’s hair for 2 hours nonstop.
Game Notes: Duke Blue Devils at Virginia Cavaliers
Date: Saturday, February 2, 2019
Venue: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA
Radio: ESPN Radio, Blue Devil IMG Sports Network
Bleed blue. Let’s get hyped: watch this a bunch today.
Duke fans knew coming into this game that St. John’s was dangerous. Shamorie Ponds, especially: last year, he put up 33 in an upset in MSG against the Blue Devils. Tre Jones decided that history would not repeat.
Zion Williamson had 29, Cam Reddish had 16, and Duke shut down St. John’s main offensive weapons to get a smashing win in Cameron over the St. John’s Red Storm, 91-61. Cam Reddish was the spark early on with 11 first half points, and especially as the game went on, Zion couldn’t be contained. He stuffed the stat sheet with 29 points on 13-17 shooting, 4 blocks, 5 steals, and 6 rebounds. Believe me, there are highlights to come. Good Gods of Basketball, this isn’t fair.
Also, he, by himself, beat all of NC State today. Just sayin’.
The anchor of this win, however amazing Zion was, had to have been Tre Jones’ lockdown defense. Shamorie Ponds, the dangerous point guard that dropped 33 last year against Duke in an upset in MSG, did not hit a shot in the first half. He finished the day 3-11 from the field. This is no knock on Ponds as we’ve seen the great scorer that he is; it was all Tre today and he set the standard for the rest of the team.
St. John’s came in with an aggressive mentality, which showed during the game. In the first half, a flagrant 1 was actually assessed to St. John’s Marvin Clark and the physicality continued throughout the game, but the team handled it well, an important experience come late February and March.
The highlights (still to come) were great and all, but my favorite play of the game was when the ball went loose and every player on the court wearing blue and white dove to the ground at some point to get it. The call did not end up going in our favor as the referee called a held ball, mostly in order to keep the play under control. What are likely to be the #1 and #2 picks in the draft don’t care about getting the next highlight play or 40 point game: they care about the team win, even when it gets gritty, and that’s what makes them great.
Zion Williamson scored 26 along with 9 rebounds and 4 blocks, RJ Barrett had 17, and Duke cruised by Notre Dame in South Bend without too much trouble. The Blue Devils garnered a 17-2 lead early and never really looked back. Notre Dame did fight the whole game, an admirable show of perseverance.
A lot of the news in college basketball this week were about how Duke was unable to shoot the three; Duke came out of the bat with 2 shots from distance, making both, an continued to shoot well and intelligently with well-placed shots on a 52.6% mark overall (10-19). Tre Jones shot well and very efficiently, his mark at 9 points on 4-6. Alex O’Connell played well, getting 7 points in 9 minutes of play. Both players made at least one three pointer.
The defensive effort was impressive as Notre Dame, a generally good shooting team with a lane presence in double-double machine John Mooney, shot just above 34% overall and 33.3% from beyond the arc. Mooney had a good game but shot a low 4-15, like many of his teammates that scored on the higher end.
Notre Dame tried to stay in it and even got it to 32-23 at one point but that hope was all but squashed by a Zion Williamson 3-pointer. From that point the lead stayed in the 20 range and didn’t move much.
Now, we get to the highlights! Zion had a Superman-like block (okay, it was technically goaltending, but it didn’t get called).
Bleed blue. Duke returns to Cameron next weekend to take on St. John’s.