Duke lost its top spot in the country when it failed in the Maui Invitational championship against Gonzaga, the new No. 1.
Gonzaga built a lead that Duke nearly wiped away but the comeback attempt came up just short and the final score read Gonzaga 89 Duke 87. Rui Hachimura scored twenty to lead the victors; Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett shared forty-five points as evenly as two men can, in defeat.
Tonight’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge will be the first time Duke takes the court since the loss. Poor Indiana; the Hoosiers have only lost once in the early going and have a star freshman of their own. He’s probably never been a fifteen-point underdog before in his life, though.
Long-Term, I have to believe losing a tournament like the one Duke lost out in Maui will be good for it. There is a bigger prize to be had and Duke is the odds-on favorite to do so, if it grows and evolves.
These star freshman that come into college basketball these days are there to set their NBA Draft value. What only some of the biggest stars realize, though, is that the best thing they can do for their value is to win.
Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Redish, who all play for Duke, are projected as the first three picks in the 2019 NBA Draft. That happened with the UConn women a few years ago but never has such a thing happened in the men’s game. In 2012, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist became the first pair of teammates to go 1-2 in the same draft.
My point is that their talents have been identified; and rather than any one of them shining above the others, the best thing the three can do for themselves is to come together with the rest of their teammates and win as they should.
So far, so good. Gonzaga is a well-seasoned team full of postseason experience. The fact that the Bulldogs could only beat Duke by two this early in the season — albeit without Killian Tillie — speaks to how truly talented Duke is. Its only been playing together for a few of months now!
The key is becoming more familiar, which can be tough when there’s pressure on you to win the ACC. Rather than looking at the big picture, a young team with expectations aplenty in the toughest basketball conference in the country can get bogged down by the day-to-day results.
This isn’t the ACC, not yet. Indiana has some talent but it also has some injuries. Freshman guard Romeo Langford and senior forward Juwan Morgan do most of the scoring. The problem could be that Morgan is undersized as Duke’s tallest player at 6’8″ and Langford is going to feel like he’s one-on-three out on the perimeter.
I really don’t see this going well for the Hoosiers. They just don’t have much depth and once Duke does chop the head off the snake, which I’m expecting it to do quite quickly, it’s going to get ugly.
Play: Duke -14.5