These are the supposed “slowest days” on the college hoops calendar – but man, we fans must have done something right, because the college hoops Gods are smiling upon us! That’s right, less than 72 hours after Kentucky wrapped up their four-game tour of the Bahamas, Duke opened up a three-game trip in Canada on Wednesday night.
And seriously, whether you love Kentucky and hate Duke or the exact opposite (I’m guessing I know where most people reading this stand) admit it, it’s good to have college basketball back on our TV’s, isn’t it?
It sure is, and after Kentucky laid down the gauntlet with a four-game bludgeoning in the Bahamas last week, Duke returned volley with a solid 86-67 win Wednesday night in their opener in Canada. The victory wasn’t as impressive on paper as the wins that Kentucky picked up last week, but credit should be given to the Blue Devils who got a solid win, against a good team (more on that coming) without two of their best players. Both Cam Reddish and Tre Jones sat out the game with minor injuries, meaning that Duke was down two starters in the victory.
So what did we learn in Wednesday’s game? Thankfully, I’m here to tell you. As one of 11 people in America with an ESPN+ account (shout out to the 7-day free trial) I figured I’d share a couple thoughts.
Here are five takeaways from Duke’s opening night win, and what you need to know about the Blue Devils going forward.
The team they played was legit:
Of all the questions that I got while discussing the game on Twitter (follow me on @Aaron_Torres if you’re somehow not already), the most prevalent one was “How was the competition?” After watching Kentucky dominate grown men last week I’d say that it wasn’t quite as good as most of the teams the Wildcats played last week – but make no mistake Ryerson is a solid squad.
For those who aren’t familiar with Canadian college basketball (and if you’re not, shame on you!!) they are considered the second best college program in Canada, and while that doesn’t sound like much, it’s actually more impressive than you’d think. The No. 1 team in Canada is a school named Carelton, which has actually played and beaten both Ole Miss and Cincinnati in the last few weeks. And get this: Each win was by more than 20 points. These Canadian schools can play, even if you’ve never heard of them.
If anything, I would compare the skill level of Ryerson to that of a really good Atlantic 10 or Mountain West type team. No, they probably couldn’t compete night-in and night-out in the ACC or SEC, but they would still probably be a fringe bubble team, capable of winning a game or two if they got to the NCAA Tournament. They had real players, a couple of which were definitely good enough to play at the high-major level (that included one kid who apparently committed to Ryerson over UConn – a fact that made me want to vomit).
Therefore, while this was a game that Duke should have won, it was still a solid victory none the less.
Zion Williamson is the real deal:
If you just look at a box score you’d see that R.J. Barrett was the leading scorer for the Blue Devils on Wednesday night. But if you watched the game, you know that Zion Williamson was the star. He finished with 29 points and 13 rebounds, with two MONSTER dunks thrown in for good measure.
And we officially have Zion Williamson's first MONSTER dunk as a member of the Duke Blue Devils pic.twitter.com/V2SdgZz2yC
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) August 15, 2018
What was maybe most impressive is that Williamson performed well, even despite Ryerson implementing a game-plan that virtually everyone in college basketball will use this season. Not wanting to get embarrassed, Ryerson played off Williamson, trying to force him to beat them with the three-point shot. Well he did that by hitting three three-pointers in the first half. Even more impressive was the fact that at a certain point he just decided to go down low and fight for rebounds – and he grabbed a couple simply by jumping right over dudes. It really was a sight to see.
I know Williamson is a lightning rod player, one that plenty of people have doubts about beyond his dunks. But on Wednesday he lived up to the hype.
Duke is once again going to really struggle with depth issues:
Listen, as good as Williamson and Barrett were, it wasn’t all rainbows, sunshine and bad dye jobs for the Blue Devils on Wednesday night. And to me, the biggest problem with the Blue Devils will once again be depth.
Look, I get that Reddish and Jones were out, and Alex O’Connell (who is sporting a heck of a new haircut) was limited after the first few minutes, but it really does look like once again this team will still be limited by depth. Outside of the four freshmen, only O’Connell, Marques Bolden and Javin Delaurier look like they’re ready to play against the better teams on Duke’s schedule.
And while some would say “seven guys are more than enough in college basketball” I do believe it’s something to keep an eye on.
For one, the Blue Devils don’t have a steady point guard behind Tre Jones (although sophomore Jordan Goldwire looked solid in limited minutes) and the offense struggled to run without him at times. Two, it really is dangerous to play with so few dependable players in college basketball. It only takes one injury or a night full of foul trouble for your whole season to go up in smoke.
Duke’s starting five is as talented as anyone in the country. What worries me is what happens when a couple of those guys aren’t on the floor.
Poor Marques Bolden hasn’t changed
This was unquestionably the most disappointing part of the whole game: Now in year three, Marques Bolden looks… well, exactly like Marques Bolden has for the last two seasons. He still has little feel for the game and looks completely lost every time he steps on the court.
I know that at a certain point we’ve got to stop feeling bad for him and let him own up to his lack of development as a player. But at the same time, it should be a warning to every other big-time high school recruit: Make sure the “fit” is right before you commit to a school.
November 6th can’t get here soon enough
Look, it’s only August. We’re still a long way from the start of formal practice, from the first poll being released, and – yes – the first game of the season. But one thing is abundantly clear: Kentucky vs. Duke will be THE game of the first few weeks of the college basketball season. Whether these two teams are ranked No.’s 1 and 2 or not isn’t what’s important. What is important is that these are the two most high-profile teams in college basketball and both are absolutely loaded going into the season.
We have plenty of time over the next four months to break down every aspect of this game.
But just know one thing: November 6th can’t get here fast enough.