Every week, the Blue Zone will make a take on Duke sports—whether that take may be hot, cold or lukewarm. This week's take is in from Ben Leonard:
Don’t get your hopes up about Duke winning a championship this year. It’s not going to happen.
For the third straight year, Duke has the nation’s top recruiting class—but it still has Marques Bolden. And not much more size.
Don’t get me wrong—with freshmen Zion Williamson and R.J Barrett leading the way, the Blue Devils will certainly be one of the nation’s top teams. Although they have four dominant freshmen with an elite point guard in Tre Jones and three very strong wings in Barrett, Williamson and Cam Reddish, Duke needs to lean on Bolden, a junior, in the post—who was dreadful in the Blue Devils’ recent Canada tour.
Bolden didn't score in the first two games of the Canadian tour and was benched in favor of Antonio Vrankovic. Yikes. He didn’t get any better after the benching, failing to score in the third and final game of the tour and picking up three fouls in 10 minutes. That’s certainly a step back from last season, in which he saw an increased role in the second half of the year and made strides in terms of offensive efficiency and rebounding.
Bolden has battled through injuries in his time at Duke, but has never shown any indication that he is anything close to the player he was touted to be as a high schooler—a five-star stud and the nation’s No. 2 center recruit.
Bolden has scored in double digits just once at Duke. Let that sink in.
Now he’s supposed to be in the final piece in the puzzle of a team with NCAA championship expectations? Fat chance that works out.
Vrankovic is a nice role piece, but he wouldn’t be an upgrade from Bolden, even if he continued to play just as poorly as he did in Canada. For a team with a subpar Bolden to go all the way in March, it would have to be lights-out from the perimeter—a proposition that becomes much more difficult without defenses having to hone in on Bolden.
The four freshmen are all incredible athletes that can score in transition and in the lane, but are unlikely to prove themselves to be reliable 3-point threats.
Duke will be able to beat up on lower-level opponents that can’t handle their athleticism, but won’t have the balance on offense to consistently beat elite teams. And as we all saw last year, trying to build an effective defense around four freshmen will certainly come with some stumbling blocks.
Duke will be very good, but if you’re looking for a team that will be primed to beat several of the nation’s top teams in a row in March, you’re out of luck.
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