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One-on-one: Is Duke for real?

Duke is for real

The real question here is not “Is Duke for real?” rather it’s will Duke go undefeated and win the National Championship? Let’s acknowledge Cam Reddish and RJ Barrett. First, on any other team in the country would be the best players by a longshot. Tre Jones, a top-level point guard whose older brother Tyus led Duke to a National Championship in the 2014-15 season, is also incredibly talented.

Now let’s talk about the elephant in the room, 6-7, 285 LBS Zion Williamson.

Even without Williamson, Duke would be a National Championship contender. However, then the team filled with top level recruits added Williamson, a freakish blend of DNA unlike one we have never seen. His athleticism not only makes Duke better as a whole, but those individually around him. With all the attention going to the rare specimen that is Williamson, his three top-tier teammates will have a fantastic chance to go somewhat unnoticed.

Even with a team this talented, some will point to their age. Williamson, Reddish, Barrett and Jones are all freshman. This means when they set foot on the floor of an NCAA tournament game, the moment will prove too big for them and they will cave under the pressure.

What these skeptics, including Matt, are overlooking is the specific competition Duke will be facing when they reach the later rounds of the NCAA tournament. They will all be extremely nervous and somewhat not sure of how to deal with their emotions.

The fact that the freshmen have been performing at the highest level of college basketball for decades is seemingly ignored each year. This dates all the way back to the Fab-5 at the University of Michigan. Freshmen are more than capable of handling themselves on the national stage.

The stereotype that freshmen stars are overly nervous and giddy therefore cannot compete in the bright lights has been proven wrong on many occasions; Jahlil Okafor for Duke, Anthony Davis for Kentucky and Derrick Rose for Memphis are just a few of the recent one-and-dones who made massive impacts on the success of their team.

– Josh Schwam

No Way 

The Duke Blue Devils stunned the college basketball world with a 34-point season-opening victory over then No. 2 Kentucky last Tuesday. It was enough to boost them to the No. 1 in the country. Even with all of this, I am not sure if I am buying the hype of this team.

There’s no denying the talent Duke has on their roster. They have the top three recruits in the this year’s class in RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish. If you add in Tre Jones, Duke has four of the top 17 players.

The problem with these players? They are all freshman. These players haven’t practiced enough to get a firm grip on what each of their teammates is like, compared to upperclassmen who have known some of their teammates for years.

History says that experience wins in March.

Take last year’s champions, the Villanova Wildcats, for example. Their top three players, Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Eric Paschal, were all juniors. The same can be said about UNC the previous year with Justin Jackson and Joel Berry being upperclassmen.

Duke’s underclassmen heavy roster struggled against Army at home in their second game of the season, a team that they should have blown out from the beginning. It took an 11-0 run before the Blue Devils were finally able to pull away for the victory.

It is also difficult for me to see Duke finishing atop a very challenging Athletic Collegiate Conference. The competition is simply too much for this young team to handle. Virginia, and UNC will give Duke a hard time rising up the conference ranks.

Finally, Duke has a reputation for early exits in March Madness. Since 2012, Duke has lost to No. 15 Lehigh and No. 14 Mercer. Duke has also failed to make it out of the first weekend of the tournament in 2017, losing to No. 7 South Carolina in the Round of 32.

Josh will argue this team has all the talent on paper, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to on-court success. There’s a lot of potential with this team, but I don’t see Duke becoming a legitimate national title contender.  History says that experience in March matters, something that Duke’s young squad doesn’t posess. For now, I do not think Duke is for real.

– Matt Harrington

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