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 Shane Smith:
Go ahead and sharpie them in as your 2019 national champs. The ACC doesn’t stand a chance this season. This team could go undefeated. Is this the greatest team of all-time?
If you thought that Duke was getting seemingly all the college basketball hype in the last two seasons, it’s nothing compared to the onslaught of proclamations that this Blue Devil squad has garnered over just two games.
Granted one of those wins was a 34-point blowout against a Kentucky team that boasts eight or so future NBA players, and each member of Duke’s talented freshmen trio is averaging over 20 points per game, Coach K will have an uphill climb to win the ACC regular season title this year, and I will make it clear that this Blue Devil team will not go 40-0.
Now, I can’t be irrational and say that Duke has not been impressive thus far. It's margin of victory against the former No. 2 Wildcats was the biggest in Champions Classic history, and you’d be hard pressed to find a team out there that has three defenders capable of locking up R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish. The Blue Devils have the most talented roster in the country and should be considered the favorites to cut down the nets for both the ACC and NCAA championships, but recent history has shown us a lack of preparedness for the non-marquee games will lead some fans to panic.
If Duke comes out motivated to play like they did vs. Kentucky against every opponent, the team could win every game on its schedule. The problem with these freshmen led teams is that those Saturday afternoon type of games against a team in the bottom half of the ACC tend to sneak up on the Blue Devils. Last year, Duke dropped games it had no business losing at Boston College and St. John’s because the young players didn’t respect their opponents.
When the Blue Devils come to town against a conference foe, it’s their opponent’s Super Bowl, giving opponents’ fans extra motivation to go wild. These freshmen need to understand that they can be beaten by any team when they aren’t focused, and the other team is dialed in.
Take for instance this last game against Army, where the Blue Devils pulled away late for a 94-72 win over the Black Knights. Duke struggled against their guards while Barrett was never able to find an offensive rhythm. In the second half, the game got as close as 66-61, but luckily the talent differential was too drastic, and the Cameron Crazies were able to help will some energy into the team. If the game was played in a different gym and there was a more talented squad on the other side, we could be looking at a 1-1 record instead of these ridiculous assertions of an undefeated season.
Mike Krzyzewski has never been one to put too much emphasis on the ACC regular season title anyway, as the Blue Devils haven’t won that award outright since 2006. Look for an experienced team like Virginia to win for a second consecutive year, who brings back De’Andre Hunter from injury and adds talented Alabama transfer Braxton Key to a team that was the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament last year.
My advice to Duke fans is to not worry about the hype surrounding this team, and to just enjoy the product on the court. The Blue Devils will lose a couple games down the road, and they’ll be in just as good position to be standing on a stage in Minneapolis come April.
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