Duke basketball: Why was Trevor Keels so underrated?

Duke basketball guard Trevor Keels (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
Duke basketball guard Trevor Keels (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images) /

A chip on the shoulder of Duke basketball guard Trevor Keels is beneficial.

There was considerable hype and anticipation around the Duke basketball freshman class coming into the 2021-22 season.

Most of the media’s attention centered around Paolo Banchero, a top-shelf recruit across all recruiting platforms. Banchero is also widely considered the favorite to become the No. 1 overall selection in next summer’s NBA Draft. AJ Griffin was another freshman who came into the season on NBA scouts’ radar.

There was minimal mention, though, of a 6-foot-5 freshman out of Clinton, Maryland. Which leaves me asking, why was Trevor Keels so underrated?

In the 2021 ESPN 100 rankings, Keels ranked No. 23. Despite playing in just four collegiate games, Keels has already emerged as one of the best freshmen in the entire country. He has seemed to take his ranking personally and made it his mission to prove himself as one of the nation’s elite newcomers.

Keels got his opportunity to do just that in his first college game in Madison Square Garden against Kentucky. He matched up with TyTy Washington, who sat nine spots ahead of him at No. 4 in the ESPN 100 rankings. Keels dominated that matchup, scoring 25 points on 10 made field goals, including clutch shots down the stretch to lead to a Duke basketball victory.

Also, he was able to put the clamps down on Washington, holding him to just nine points on 3-for-14 shooting from the field.

In the latest blowout victory over Gardner-Webb, Keels was the story for the Duke Blue Devils once again. The squad got off to a slow start offensively, but it was Keels who provided a lift and sparked a run that helped blow the game wide open. Keels connected on four 3-pointers, all in the first half, which allowed the Blue Devils to build a sizeable lead.

Duke never looked back from that point on and ended up winning by 40. Keels finished the game with 18 points in just 26 minutes of action.

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It is hard to understand why so many slept on Keels in the preseason. Before choosing Duke, Keels was also considering Villanova, Virginia, and Kentucky. While some of the so-called experts may not have seen the potential of Keels, other top programs and Hall of Fame coaches undoubtedly noticed it.

Why people may have overlooked the Duke basketball sniper

Keels played at Paul VI High School in Northern Virginia. Paul VI is a basketball powerhouse that has produced players like current Duke basketball point guard Jeremy Roach, former Syracuse point guard Frank Howard, and former Louisville wing VJ King, to name a few.

The school plays in one of the country’s most competitive high school conferences, featuring other high-level programs like DeMatha, St. John’s, Gonzaga, and Bishop O’Connell. Each produces multiple Division I players year in year out.

A game that cemented Keels on the national scene was when he erupted for a team-high 25 points in a December 2019 win over IMG Academy, a team with current Duke basketball center Mark Williams. After that game, Keels started to become a player that all the top college programs wanted on their team.

With COVID-19, Keels was not able to have the same amount of opportunities to boost his ranking. That was likely one of the biggest reasons why he was underrated coming into this season.

The other main reason is that many college basketball writers and analysts don’t do their homework. They rely on the narrative set by other writers and analysts. Most of them had probably never seen Keels play, which is why they didn’t include him in any of the heavily discussed preseason lists leading up to the start of the season.

Instead, Paolo Banchero was the name that was thrown around — for a good reason — but his hype took away from those writers and analysts focusing on the other players on Duke’s roster.

All the college hoops “experts” always sound right before the season, but they don’t look quite as bright once the games begin.

What Trevor Keels is doing so far this season is reminiscent of Luke Kennard in 2016. There was considerable hype around Grayson Allen, Jayson Tatum, and Harry Giles going into the 2016-17 season. Nobody was even mentioning Kennard before the start of the year. But once the games began, Kennard got off to a terrific start and was arguably Duke basketball’s best player for the entire season.

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Trevor Keels may not be able to get out from the Paolo Banchero shadow. But it’s become evident that he will play a significant role on this year’s team.