It’s not even going to be close. Trust me. I know we’re only one game into the season, but anyone who watched Tuesday night’s game between Duke and Kentucky knows that this is the God-given truth.
Heck, anyone who didn’t watch only needs to look at the scoreline — a disgustingly dominant 118-84 finish powered by a fleet of freshmen — to know that this Blue Devils team is like 2012 Kentucky incarnate but, like, 100 times scarier.
Look, this is coming from the strongest, dumbest, most belligerently obstinate Kansas Jayhawks homer on the West Coast. My guys don’t even stand a chance.
Freshman power forward Zion Williamson is going to eat junior center Udoka Azubuike for a snack. Freshman forward R.J. Barrett is going to make redshirt sophomore guard K.J. Lawson look like a middle schooler trying to guard a high school senior. Kansas coach Bill Self might have put together one of the most talented and well-rounded squads that Lawrence, Kansas has seen in a hot minute, but it’s still not going to do anything against the Blue Devils.
That’s because trying to stop Duke with a well-rounded team of top-tier talent is like trying to fight a forest fire with a garden hose. It’s well-intentioned, sure, but it’s never going to work. That’s because this team is the definition of well-rounded, but in a whole new sense.
Typically, a team that is considered well-measured and balanced is seen as such because it has an appropriate level of talent at every position. Great college teams need a big man to power down low, a point guard who can handle and dish, a defensive specialist, a random pasty white guy who can drill threes from the corner at opportune moments. Coaches obviously attempt to recruit a wide variety of talent so that they can put a team on the court that has an equal (and hopefully equally high) level of talent at every position. That’s elementary.
But Duke flips that on its head. Instead, this team offers an astonishing breadth of players who offer all of those skills — the shooter, the floor-spreading ball-stealer, the scrappy defense man, the white dude in the corner — wrapped up into individual packages. And they’re impossible to guard.
I mean, have you seen Zion? Yes, I am calling this 18-year-old man child by his first name because he is already that big of a name already, despite being three whole years younger than me. (No, I’m not bitter.)
This freaky kid is like some kind of Dr. Frankenstein conglomeration of every necessary skill to be a good basketball player. Normally, you only get a few skills, like one of those Facebook “Pick two of these three things” memes. No one gets to be 6-foot-7, weigh in at 285 pounds and sprint the court as fast as the smallest dude on the court. No one gets to have the strength to hammer dunk over a seven-foot post and still have the deftness to maneuver through four men like a guard.
But that’s the reality for Zion, who is easily the greatest show on hardwood this season and will probably stay that way throughout his illustrious future in the NBA. I would be mad or jealous of this kid’s talent if he wasn’t so fun to watch, but here I am, pencilling the Duke basketball schedule into my calendar alongside my Jayhawks’ lineup, because I’ll be damned if I miss out on this star’s rise.
Of course, the frustrating thing about this team is that it’s not just the Zion show. Sure, he scored 28 points in his freshman debut, but he was outpaced by Barrett, who posted 33 points, and Cam Reddish rolled out 22 points as well.
That’s right. Duke had three freshman forwards drop over 20 points in a game against the No. 2 team in the nation. Supplemented by solid performances from their guards — only three players on the roster, including a walk-on, didn’t post points in the blowout — the towering trio proved what happens when you bring three agile 6-foot-7 monsters onto the court at the same time.
That’s what makes this Duke team just so lethal, and it all happened on purpose. Duke boasts the most lethal freshman class in the nation, and perhaps in NCAA history. It’s the first time the top three recruits of any class went to one school, and unlike other freshman classes, this super team chose itself.
When Duke cruises to an undefeated national championship win, we’ll all have Duke basketball alum Tyus Jones to thank. The former Duke star turned his little brother Tre onto the team, and as Tre grew up in the game, he began to amass a dazzling group of friends through playing travel ball. Soon, a group chat was formed between a group of kids who played with and against each other in All-American circuits and youth Olympic teams.
Sure, they knew that eventually all five of them would end up on Power 5 NCAA teams and in the NBA. Why not do it together? The group committed as one, and this decision to buy into the same program and vision might be the scariest part of this young Duke squad.
Sure, we’ve never seen a team with this much talent; but more importantly, we’ve never seen a team of young guys with this much talent who have chosen to pursue the title together. This cohesiveness and unity at such an early point is the final straw that is guaranteed to break opponents’ backs this year.
The Blue Devils have a plan, and there’s really not much stopping them. College basketball fans will just have to strap in and count their blessings this season; because as far as I’m concerned, the national championship is already well on its way to Durham.
Julia Poe is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “Poe’s Perspective,” runs Thursdays.