Duke opened the season tonight with a bang in the Champions’ Classic as the Blue Devils took out the third-ranked Kansas Jayhawks, 68-66. Though by no means an offensive battle, sophomore captain Tre Jones led Duke, on every end of the court and every aspect of the game, with 15 points alongside 6 assists and 6 rebounds. It was a team effort, however, that won the game: both offenses struggled immensely, but the team defense was triumphant. It was a physical, rough game with ups and downs, and a young team responded on the big stage.
The biggest statistic for the game? 28 turnovers. 28! All on Kansas. Yes, that’s a sloppy game by the Jayhawks (almost the sloppiest ever) but it is undeniable that Duke’s defense played an enormous role in that stat. And while some may say that the margin of victory should have been much larger, the faintest idea that that is even possible is mind-boggling. With improvement and experience gained over the course of the year and that already established, this team is going to be very, very good. The game plan was executed exceptionally, with double teams containing the Jayhawk frontcourt and ballhandlers struggling to get by. Cassius Stanley’s athleticism was on full display, Jack White had numerous huge steals, one to seal the game, and Vernon Carey battled with the biggest of foes down low. It was an exemplary game in terms of strong and composed defensive play.
It’s not difficult to determine that the offensive efficiency for the Blue Devils was unimpressive. Duke managed to scratch out enough points to beat a top 4-ranked team, so I’m not too concerned. Shot selection was not always superb and neither was execution, at 36.5% on field goals. Considering the physicality of the game, though, the Duke offense wasn’t terrible, with some big shots coming from an array of players, eight in total scoring. Matthew Hurt had a huge three-pointer, and Cassius Stanley was magnificent, especially by the end of the game. In a rough offensive game for both sides, our Blue Devils didn’t back down.
One surprise was that Joey Baker, after showing out against Fort Valley State in exhibition, did not take the floor. Perhaps there’s an injury we’re not hearing about, but we’ll expect him to have an impact this season.
Bleed blue. Duke eases up with Colorado State on Friday for the home opener back in the Bull City.
The wait is over: college basketball returns tonight, and what way to start it other than a face-off between the premier programs of the NCAA? The Champions’ Classic pits Duke and Kansas against one another this year, both teams sitting atop the polls at #4 and #2, respectively. A young team will begin on a big stage, and it’s time to see how they’ll handle it.
Duke previewed the season with Countdown to Craziness then two exhibition games: Northwest Missouri State and Fort Valley State. NWMSU gave Duke a run for their money, and though they were reigning Division II Champions that doesn’t excuse a near-disaster for the Blue Devils. Duke scratched out a 6-point victory at 69-63. The emotion from the first game, however, seemed to be taken out in the second, unfortunately for FVS. Duke brought down the hammer on them, 126-57.
Duke is facing an experienced Kansas team, something we lack. A major focus will be rebounding, as the Jayhawks bring back a strong frontcourt including very productive big man Udoka Azubuike. Azubuike will provide a sufficient challenge on both ends of the court for Vernon Carey, Jr, the most renowned of Duke’s incoming freshman class and assumably starting center.
You can catch the start of the season tonight on ESPN at 7:00 ET. You won’t want to miss this.
Think about this: Zion Williamson from last season (Heisman Trophy winner alongside every other award possible in college basketball for his position, eventual No. 1 NBA draft pick, social media rockstar, dunking sensation but way, way, way more than a dunker) in prime physical condition.
Hold up– Zion wasn’t in prime physical condition last year?
Well, obviously, Zion was in incredible shape. Like, he was jumping from the free throw line before the season had even started. However, it appears that even that isn’t prime physical condition for him; this picture is getting a lot of attention:
Good gracious. Many were quick to jump on the “not in good enough shape” bandwagon after his post-college, pre-draft break, but that’s out of the question. I’m pretty sure he’s doing alright and it looks like his knee, which he injured minorly in his first summer league appearance, is healed up pretty well (see below).
We can’t wait for Zion to start tearing up the league. The Pelicans open in Toronto to play the reigning champion Raptors, sans Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Bleed blue.
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.
Well, he won’t be going far from the draft in Brooklyn: RJ Barrett, after seeing roommate and teammate Zion Williamson go #1, is officially the third pick of the 2019 NBA Draft to the New York Knicks. The pick was expected, but like his best friend, the interview following the pick was emotional for both RJ and his dad. This is what these players have worked for their entire lives and the draft culminates that, so the emotion is understandable especially as the realization comes that this is real. New York is a tough place for a young player but if there’s somebody who can take it, it’s RJ. He is the star they badly need with a depleted roster after years of tanking. Congratulations and thank you to RJ from your Blue Devil family.
As we wrap up 2019 Recruiting, the 2020 picture is already beginning to look good: Jeremy Roach, a five-star, 6-2 guard from Virginia committed to Duke on Wednesday. Roach is ranked 14th in the ESPN 100 for his year and 2nd at point guard. He is the first verbal commitment on the year to the Brotherhood.
It’s not definite but as Jeremy Roach is a point guard, it’s likely that Roach is the new point guard assuming that our beloved Tre Jones departs after another year or two. There are a few parallels between the two, and after the success he had with Jones, Roach probably appealed most to the coaches out of the point guards that came out of this high school class.
Zion Williamson has officially declared for the 2019 NBA Draft, as he announced via Instagram on Monday. His declaration is the final of the three expected to come from Duke, and like his teammates Zion is likely to be signing with an agent, being the face of basketball and all. Unless the general manager of the NBA Draft lottery winner is suddenly without a brain, Zion will go #1 in the draft, no question about it.
All we can say is that while this wasn’t unexpected, thank you, Zion. Thank you for making this season as unforgettable as it was. Thank you for making fans across America jump and yell with electrifying dunks. Thank you for being the spark for your team like no other player on earth. Thank you for fighting, fighting, fighting every second for this team. But thank you most of all for being yourself: for loving the game, for grinning and laughing and being so happy all the time to make the game so much fun for everyone. Zion Williamson is every reason why we love the game of basketball.
Bleed blue. Look for updates as Matthew Hurt, one of the final recruits on the list for Coach K and Duke this year, makes his decision on Friday. All signs have pointed to his interest in going to Duke, especially after fellow Minnesota native Tre Jones announced his plans to return to Durham. Additionally, Hurt’s father canceled visits from two of the four head coaches that he’s considering playing for, which certainly isn’t a good sign for those programs (neither of which are Duke; the two were John Calipari of Kentucky and Bill Self of Kansas).
Acquiring the crowning jewel for his collection of awards, Zion Williamson has been officially named the 2018-2019 John R. Wooden Player of the Year. The college game’s most prestigious award would’ve been a very tough decision in the absence of Zion, with incredible players from Ja Morant to RJ Barrett to Grant Williams in the running. However, Zion’s season made it quite clear that little consideration would be necessary: this is one of the best player’s we’ve seen grace a college court.
After the AP NPOY Award, the Naismith Award, the Karl Malone Award, and the Wooden trophy (and that’s not even the full list!), I’m guessing that the Williamson family is going to need a bigger shelf.
Zion Williamson, surprisingly enough, has not yet declared for the NBA Draft. He was somewhat emotional talking about how much he would miss his teammates during the interview after receiving the Wooden Award, but he reiterated what he said after the Karl Malone Award: a definitive “I don’t know.” He has, as of this Saturday morning, 8 days to decide as the deadline is April 21. He was considered pretty much a lock to leave considering that he is going to be the #1 pick in the draft, but there’s been speculation on the subject.
One year ago, Wendell Carter, Jr, considered a sophomore year at Duke (can you imagine that?). Yet, he decided on his birthday to depart Durham and was ultimately drafted to the Bulls, who I’m rooting for to win the lottery so I can see Wendell and Zion together. There could be a similar situation with Zion. I don’t want to convince him stay, as that may not be what’s best for his family (as much as we as Duke fans want it so badly).
Bleed blue. I can’t wait until this agony is over on April 22.
Duke’s superstars of 2018-19, RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson, have collected their first trophies of the night at ESPN’s College Basketball Awards, each in their respective positions. RJ, who declared for the NBA Draft just two days ago, won the Jerry West Award for the best shooting guard in the country, while Zion netted the Karl Malone Award for power forwards.
Zion was up against stout competition in Kansas’ Dedric Lawson and Tennessee’s Grant Williams among others but even having missed six games in February, it was no contest. He averaged 22.6 points per game, 8.9 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 2.1 steals, and 68% from the field. As has been said throughout the year, those are video game numbers. From the absolutely out-of-nowhere dunks to the “poetry in motion” (his description of the electrifying dunks), Zion Williamson was the face of college basketball because of the greatness that is expected to lead him to the John R. Wooden Award later tonight.
RJ Barrett also faced a tough group, but also emerged as one of the best players in the game, not to mention at his position. RJ matched Zion’s point average in the season with 22.6 points per game, as well as having emerged as one of the best defensive rebounders on the team. As previously mentioned, RJ has declared for the NBA Draft.
More to come when the Wooden Award is named, and we’re all pretty sure that we know who will win the men’s award. Bleed blue.