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Five Thoughts on Duke’s Opening Game in Canada

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.

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.

Article written by Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres is covering football and basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or e-mail at [email protected] He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”

34 Comments for Five Thoughts on Duke’s Opening Game in Canada

  1. Bluebloodtoo
    12:31 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

    Speaking of foul trouble, think about what UK could do with their stable full of thoroughbreds to antagonize opposing teams. .

  2. Aar
    12:43 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

    So, more than one-third of their points were tallied by their second leading scorer? Sounds like a balanced team.

  3. ibescootch
    12:49 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

    I watched the game as well, and I think it’ll take a little time for Williamson to adjust to the pace of college ball, but he’ll be a star, no doubt. He’s had problems in the past with conditioning, so it may take a little while. I saw the same thing though, there is an absolutely monstrous drop off in talent after their starters leave the floor. I’d guess teams will try to get Williamson or Barrett in foul trouble and then try not to get beaten by whatever’s left. On a side note, I was not impressed by their camaraderie. They don’t look like they really enjoy each other, and I don’t think I would have noticed it without watching UK play first. They got hyped for big plays and things like that, but they didn’t really show emotion toward each other, like UK does.

  4. Kat4Life
    1:11 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

    Duke is loaded….but not deep. It’s top 5-7 players are on par with ours….. believe it. That said, we are every bit their equal and we should find ourselves meeting them in the Final Four. Can’t wait for November 6……..

    • Luether
      1:40 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

      Dook’s Barrett and Williamson are both awesome…

    • TBW3011
      1:41 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

      Top 4. That’s it.

    • KyZoneBlitz
      2:40 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

      I disagree, Barrett, Zion, reddish, I’ll even give ya Jones, but that’s it, the other white kid broke a bone in hos face, so he might not play against us. I’d say while they may have the best play on the court in Barrett, Keldon Johnson might be #2, or at least 2-A/2-B with Zion. Reddish is good but he is essentially the same thing as Barrett, just not as good, same with Zion, 3 players with very similar skill sets, average or below shooters, excellent athletes who can jump out the gym, and the three 3-pointers that Zion hit in the game, I mean, that doesn’t mean he’s a good shooter. Eric Bledsoe hit eight 3’s back in the tournament the game before we went 3-34 as a team from 3 and lost to huggie bear and W.V.

    • kenny
      7:53 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

      Imo can redfish is a star.

  5. Skeeter Valentine
    1:21 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

    On the the radio show today, Matt said that after watching the game he believed Ryserson was worse than Bellarmine, A D-II school. Yet, Aaron believes they are an A-10/ MWC caliber team. Hmmm.

    • KYcats11
      3:36 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

      Exactly what I was thinking. No way they’re a bubble team.

    • Ez21
      3:39 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

      Exactly what I was gonna write.

  6. TBW3011
    1:37 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

    I’ll reserve judgement on how good Zion is. Unless he’s greatly improved, the 3 pointers were flukish. Even being wide open. He’ll struggle with length and athleticism guarding him IMO

  7. RealCatsFan
    1:53 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

    Honestly, can anyone tell me the last time dook was in foul trouble? Maybe pre-Count K era?

    • J-Dub421
      2:09 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

      So, 18-something?

    • Greatcatfan
      2:36 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

      Back when the NCAA didn’t allow the boosters to tell the refs you can have cash in a bag or your body in one make the easy choice you wuss.

    • Luether
      9:17 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

      That’s why K plays so much zone – to keep his Team out of foul trouble…

    • SCCat
      11:14 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

      Well, the primary reason is that they can’t stay in front of anybody playing man. They might foul when out of position, but K plays zone because his guys can’t guard.

  8. Wade
    1:58 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

    We will know how good they are when they meet us bc we know we’re fukn awesome

  9. M.T.Pockets
    2:03 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

    skeeter stole my thunder, I believe matt

  10. A_Blue_Wildcat
    2:28 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

    From what I saw they are basically gonna be a four man team. Everyone except Zion, Barret, Reddish, and Jones wouldn’t even play on this years UK team. Also I wouldn’t call that Ryerson team legit, they look equivalent to a low level d1 team or a good d2 team, either way much worse than any of the teams we played in Bahamas. To put in perspective the Team Toronto that we played had multiple Ryerson graduates who were currently in their prime and playing professional ball somewhere else, and that was the worst team we played.

  11. KyZoneBlitz
    2:33 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

    Have to disagree with you Mr. Torres, Ryerson wasn’t legit, and I would move them a notch below the usual -every single player shoots 50% from 3- mountain West or Atlantic 10 teams. While We played international pro teams with grown men, multiple NBA pro prospects and former LEGIT D1 college players from solid programs, duke played a team that was clearly outmatched, and don’t most of those mountain west/Atlantic 10 teams usually have a massive guy down low for rebounding their rare misses? Ryerson had nothing, and could stop a runny nose or a faucet leak. Essentially as you stated, dukes lack of depth caught up, and being winded, Ryerson capitalized on dukes pathetic defense (something that will be a factor when we play them, our size and defensive capabilities, as I believe it was stated on a different ksr post that Duke was watching us play in the Bahamas and Barrett was quoted as saying they were going to “kill us”). So in my humble opinion good sir, calling the team duke played, Ryerson, legit, just isn’t logical, while the competition UK played could join a D1 college conference this season and compete to win it, while also makin ? The tourney.

  12. NickPapagiorgio
    2:56 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

    If you truly watched the game and weren’t in awe of his athleticism, you’d see major flaws in his game that were attributed by the competition/role he played in high school (regular season). First of all, Zion took 23 shots which is a lot, but lets break down the numbers.

    Total FG-FGA (13-23/57%)
    3PT FG-FGA (3-4/75%)
    FT-FTA (0-100%)

    Jumpshots (0-4/0%)
    Layups/Putbacks (7-12/58%)
    Dunks (3-3/100%)
    3PT (3-4/75%)

    1. If you strip out the layups/putbacks and dunks, he went 0-4 on all of his jumpshots. 3 of his jumpers were blocked because he couldn’t get enough elevation on his shot
    2. He shoots left handed and can’t finish with his right hand at all. If driuving to the right side of the basket, he’ll switch hands as he goes up to finish which will force him to score underneath
    3. Dunks were uncontested (obviously)
    4. 3PT shot was either uncontested or being guarded by a 5’11” or 6’0″ guard because Ryerson was running a 2-3 zone.
    5. Layups were blocked by similar height but smaller forwards
    6. Ryerson’s 6’8″ SF put up 20 points and 12 rebounds

    One thing I will note is his ability to get to the basket, but he’ll need to work on his low post moves and being able to finish with his right hand. Also, because of his athleticism, he’s a rebound machine and will for sure get 12+ night in and night out. If he learns to use that athleticism with a mid-range jumper, he’s going to be extremely dangerous, but as you can see from the game and practice footage, his feet barely leave the ground when shooting.

  13. Alex90
    2:58 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

    Torres just lost some credibility in my eyes by saying they were legit. I didn’t dock him too much but he definitely lost some

    • SCCat
      11:10 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

      I like Torres’ posts and podcasts, but I think he left out a lot of significant info and was pretty sloppy with this post.

      How can you report on this game without noting that RJ and Zion took 63 of Duke’s 81 shots!!! The rest of the team only got 18 shots (and had 23 pts).

      Also, the Ryerson coach was the coach for Team Toronto in the Bahamas and had 3 of his Ryerson players on that team. I would guess they were among Ryerson’s best players, but I didn’t research that. One of those guys who had 2 pts and 5 rebs v. Cats had 20 and 12 v. Duke. Although they hadn’t played together, you’d think Team Toronto would be much better than Ryerson because it had Duane Notice and at least 4 professional players.

      Are those facts not worth being included?

  14. Bigblue7982
    3:20 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

    Cats by 10+

  15. Danny44324
    3:28 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

    What game were you watching?

  16. BBN_strive_4_9
    4:30 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

    Cats by 15+

  17. blueblue
    4:55 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

    I really think it will be the first regular season game of the year AND ALSO the LAST postseason game. If we go 1-1, let it be that we lose the first game and win the NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP game!!! I’d take it!! But I’d prefer to win both!!! Lol. Go BigBlue!!!

  18. dukeisking
    8:26 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

    Sounds like the Dukies have the cats fan base PANTIES IN A BUNCH… Greatest show on earth. 2018-2019 Duke Blue devils!!!!!!

    • Wade
      8:52 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

      Check our history we perfected basketball Kansas created it and duke is second in its own state. You guys aren’t even the top 4 blue bloods the other is designated for UCLA.Sucks for you to be in here now go back to class you just got schooled dookie. And those pantys you speak of of course your wrong again ,their your mommas!!!! Go cats dukes pretty boys vs Kentucky’s dogs… can’t wait

    • CATandMONKEY
      10:02 pm August 16, 2018 Permalink

      Having a small pen!s is cool and all. No need to boast though. Not really a good look for a Duke fan on a rival’s website.