By Kyle Beery
A tradition unlike any other: overreacting after the first day of a new season.
You see it anywhere and everywhere; in every sport, every city, every year.
Tuesday night’s drubbing of No. 2 Kentucky by the Duke triumvirate of freshmen led me to overreact big time. Well, maybe it wasn’t an overreaction. We’ll see.
But after weeks of watching high school highlight reels of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish — and considering the turnover on the Blue Devils’ roster — I had convinced myself that Duke wasn’t the best team in the country. It’s not that I didn’t think they were going to be really, really good, I just thought they would endure a pretty hefty early-season learning curve and struggle at times throughout the year.
I convinced myself that Zion Williamson’s high-flying bully ball style in high school wasn’t going to translate seamlessly to the college game and he wasn’t going to be the best player on Duke’s roster.
I convinced myself that Duke had little to no depth at all beyond the three freshmen and they’d struggle to find steady production from outside the youngsters throughout the year.
I studied up on Kentucky and convinced myself they had the upper hand on Duke in the monumental season-opening game at the Champions Classic.
A funny thing happened Tuesday night in Indianapolis. I was dead wrong on almost all of that.
Kentucky had nothing near an upper hand on Duke. In fact, they could barely lay a hand on the Blue Devils.
The Wildcats simply could not stop Duke’s freshmen, as they combined for 83 points and the Blue Devils won in dominant fashion, 118-84.
Zion went off for 28 points on 11-of-13 shooting and impressed me with his mid-range shooting game — he even hit his one three-point attempt of the night (albeit an ugly looking shot). His jump shooting and perimeter game were what made me shy away from calling him Duke’s best player, in favor of Barrett.
Oh, yeah. He’s a menace on defense, too.
While Barrett was undeniably impressive (33 points on 13–of-26 shooting Tuesday), to me, Williamson was at bare minimum the most important, if not the best, player on the floor for Duke.
There will be times when I go back and forth between who is the better player. Don’t get me wrong, Barrett was downright dirty. He’d be the best player on any other roster in the country. I have no problems with those who are calling Barrett the no-brainer decision for top pick in the NBA Draft. And I won’t bat an eye at it when he goes first next June.
But I’ve never seen a creature on a college basketball floor like Zion Williamson. I think I somehow managed to underestimated just how massive the kid is — his bully ball mentality may work out just fine after all. I don’t know how anyone will look at that film and come up with a successful gameplan to stop him.
And if they do stop Williamson, they’ve still got to deal with Barrett and Reddish. Yikes. That alone might make Williamson the best asset Duke has.
As I said, there’s nothing like a good overreaction to start the season. Even after Kansas’s impressive display in their 92-87 win over Michigan State, I’m sold on Duke being the best team in the country.
One of my biggest qualms with the Blue Devils was their depth, and some of my concerns in that area were eased by seeing the likes of Marques Bolden, Jack White, Alex O’Connell and Tre Jones each showing me flashes of looking like a group of guys that are capable of playing at a high level in a complimentary role to three of the best players in the nation.
Sure, they received a nice boost from Duke’s big three, which helped elevate their play. And the Wildcats were absolutely dejected less than halfway through the game — their massive early deficit played a huge role in Duke’s explosion. A team flying high is only going to soar that much higher against a team that is getting embarrassed.
But the Blue Devil role players looked a whole lot better than I expected them to. And fans in Durham should be very, very excited about this team as a whole. They just mopped the floor with what I still believe is a great Kentucky team that will be just fine.
The Wildcats have a remarkable amount of talent on their roster. It’s only a matter of time before they start clicking. Reid Travis is going to have games that make Tuesday’s 22-point performance look mundane. Keldon Johnson looked quite impressive as well. Calipari’s team will come around. Just be patient.
So of course, I say all this, just to remind you once again that there’s nothing like a good early-season overreaction. Unquestionably there will be points this season where Duke manages to have an off-night and loses a game they shouldn’t. And guess what will happen when that game comes along. That’s right, more overreactions.
Duke will probably have a game or two that make me say, “see, I knew they weren’t the best team.” But after Tuesday’s unreal performance, I’m finding it hard to believe.
Are you as thrilled as I am that college basketball is back? I doubt it.