It’s a cold day in you know where when I agree with Jon Rothstein in general, but this time, he’s definitely got it right about Duke basketball.
Author’s note: I wrote this before the Virginia game. Yeah, the Duke basketball team lost a last-second, end-of-game scenario. Again. Whatever. Four losses by nine points. It is what it is and why we started an overreaction post of the week. Nothing changes. Enjoy.
It’s hard to be a homer for Duke basketball and write objectively about the Duke Blue Devils sometimes. You think you know more, have seen more, and are privy to the inner workings of team dynamics, having watched them exclusively rather than, let’s say, national analysts who pay attention to the whole landscape rather than any micro-based one.
Not to say that they don’t know what they’re talking about from time to time. They have gotten to be televised talking heads for a reason, although vague in some cases. And I would gladly take a micro-based salary of theirs to occupy that same position blathering in front of national audiences, no matter the blasphemy that may spew from my mouth.
A fairly accurate assessment of this Duke basketball squad
Sometimes, it seems like it’s better to have any take on Duke basketball and the state of the Blue Devils than actually have a good one. But after they shellacked North Carolina at the Dean E. Smith Center on Saturday, one such analyst tweeted one of his smartest takes all season:
Duke has definitely shown it is beatable. Any team is, at any time, on any night.
It’s the sad reality for the Blue Devils, who have finished as the national runner-ups a record six times and were beaten in the Final Four five more times on top of that. That’s 11 times Duke was oh so close, not to mention all the great teams that lost before the NCAA Tournament’s last weekend and One Shining Moment.
I don’t agree with the “it may not be close” part from CBS Sports national pundit Jon Rothstein. It isn’t close from a sheer talent point of view.
A starting five of Paolo Banchero, AJ Griffin, Trevor Keels, Wendell Moore, and Mark Williams is one of the longest and strongest units in college hoops and hands down the most physically gifted and dynamic. The emergence of Griffin as a potential 20-point-a-night scorer who can get buckets from anywhere has solidified this status.
All at least have the potential to go in the first round of the 2022 NBA Draft, and all are surefire selections within the top 60.
Banchero is another 20-point-a-night player and just a finalist for NPOY honors. Williams, an NDPOY candidate, can change the other teams’ game plans in how they attack the basket — besides giving around 13 points, nine rebounds, and three blocks per outing the last seven games.
Keels, a starter before his injury, is working his way back into game shape and even looked like he was getting his shooting stroke fixed after a little mid-season slump. And Moore can go for a triple-double on any given night and is shooting 41.6 percent from three over his last seven games.
They all are — or can be — studs defensively and allow Duke to switch almost everything or provide killer length and quickness in a zone, which the Blue Devils are implementing a little here and there.
Take the next three off the bench. Jeremy Roach is the former five-star point guard who hasn’t been shooting it great but has 44 assists to only nine turnovers in the last eight games. Joey Baker has played effectively and efficiently of late, providing leadership as a captain. Meanwhile, Theo John brings an attitude and toughness that rubs off on everybody.
Duke does have some areas of improvement, but when the Blue Devils are on and playing up to their capabilities, they become almost unbeatable.
After all, as noted in a follow-up tweet from The Roth, Griffin only had two points in the Blue Devil wins over Kentucky and Gonzaga, playing a total of 17 minutes. He also didn’t play at all in Duke basketball’s 4-1 preseason victory over Villanova if you go by minutes displayed in a highlight video, which counts under the new COVID rules, I think.
The Blue Devils’ emerging superstar barely played in Duke’s most impressive wins.
Growing pains and losses will always come when there is a great reliance on freshmen and underclassmen to be stars. It’s just that these stars are burning exceptionally bright and are well-balanced, with a clear path through the sky to see the heavens and what is waiting there for them.
When the team blew the roof off the Dean Dome, even the national pundits took notice. What they saw is what Blue Devil fans already know: the ceiling is never the roof for Duke basketball.
Stay tuned to Ball Durham for more Duke basketball news and views.