I know what you’re going to say. How can you judge a prestigious team like Duke when they play schools like Elon and Utah Valley? Of course they are supposed to blow them out because they are the Duke Blue Devils with one of the best coaches in the history of the sport and a top recruiting class year after year.
However, with just two games under their belt, this team looks poised for a National Championship.
How are these Blue Devils different from last year’s team?
Although Duke became the first ACC team to win four games in four days on their way to winning the ACC Tournament, the season was a disappointment, as they fell to South Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Going into the year, according to ESPN.com, Duke had the No. 2 recruiting class, highlighted by players like Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles and Frank Jackson, who were all drafted in this past NBA Draft. They also returned Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson.
Despite these big names, injuries and lack of consistency haunted this Duke team throughout the season. Allen was constantly in the headlines for tripping people, and Harry Giles was never able to be a real factor.
Fast forward to this season and in walks a fresh new breed of elite talent. Because of the one-and-done era, the best players attend a school for one season before departing to the NBA. If you watched the first two games, make sure to not fall in love with some of the players because a few of their names will be called in next year’s NBA Draft.
Big Men on Campus
According to ESPN’s Top 100, a list that complies the top 100 incoming freshmen for this season, Duke owns the first, fifth, sixth and eighth ranked players. The No. 1 ranked player, Marvin Bagley III, is a 6-foot-11, athletic freak. Bagley, who is originally from Phoenix, reclassified this August so that he could graduate high school and attend Duke this fall.
This past season for Sierra Canyon High School, Bagley averaged 24.9 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. This kid can do it all, and NBA stars like Chris Paul, Paul Pierce, and Lamar Odom had a front-row seat to his dominance, as they all attended Sierra Canyon games while Bagley was playing.
Over the summer, Bagley spent time in the Drew League, competing against players like DeMar DeRozan, JaVale McGee, Julius Randle and Baron Davis. In a game against a team led by DeRozan, Bagley erupted for 32 points and 11 boards. He also participated in the league’s All-Star game, knocking down 18 points and corralled 20 rebounds.
In his first two collegiate games, Bagley has been nothing short of impressive. His 49 points are tied with Jabari Parker for most points by a freshman over the first two games of their Duke career. He is also averaging 10 rebounds a game. Bagley has a real shot to be the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
Another big man, Wendell Carter Jr., the fifth ranked player in his recruiting class, is projected to be a top-10 pick in the draft. Because of Bagley, Carter’s talent may be swept under the rug in the public eye, but Duke knows the 6-foot-10, 260 pound freshman is a stud. Carter is a mobile big man, who can score with both hands in traffic and has no problem going hard to draw fouls. He is an exceptional rebounder, as he has tallied up 13 boards in his two games.
Exceptional Guard Play
The other two big names in this recruiting class, Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval, have both found immediate success at the collegiate level. Trent Jr. is the son of former NBA player, Gary Trent. He appears to be lights out from deep, as he has started the season 7-for-13 from three. Through two games, Trent Jr. is averaging 17 points per game.
The reason for Duke’s struggles last season was mostly due to the fact that they were without a true ball handler. If you think back to their past two championships, both teams had a dominant ball handler. They had Nolan Smith in 2010 and Tyus Jones in 2015. Insert “Tricky” Trevon Duval.
Duval, a super athletic point guard, has exceptional handles and is as quick as they come. “Tricky” looks like a a combination of John Wall and Russell Westbrook, as he flies around the floor and has already shown his freakish athleticism. Duval does not shy away from contact, and defends well. His 20 assists in his first two games is the new Duke freshman record, eclipsing Chris Duhon’s 12 from the 2001 season. Duval has also only turned the ball over just one time.
The four freshman scored 58 of Duke’s 97 points against Elon. In their last matchup against Utah Valley, Duke’s first 40 points were scored by freshmen, as well as every single point during their 27-8 run in the middle of the first half.
What about the rest?
Somehow, we have managed to go this far into an article without mentioning the great Grayson Allen. Allen, who had somewhat of a down season last year, is determined to put up big numbers in his senior year. In the home opener, Allen lit it up, scoring 22 points, including 6-for-9 from deep. He kept the momentum going against Utah Valley, scoring 18 on 7-for-11 shooting.
In 2009-10, seniors Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas all played crucial parts in the championship run. In 2014-15, we saw Quinn Cook show exceptional leadership, as he kept the team focused on their way to the title. Allen, who played a pivotal part in the 2015 National Championship, is ready to lead this young group of stars.
This team reminds me a lot of the 2014-15 team. That team, led by the three exceptional freshmen, Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones, was a young, talented team like this year’s squad. Based off the first two games, this Duke freshman class could be the best we have ever seen.
Players like Javin DeLaurier, Alex O’Connell, Marques Bolden and Jordan Goldwire will all play vital roles in helping this team accomplish their goals.
Tonight, Duke will square off against No. 2 Michigan State in Chicago in the Champions Classic.
Featured image by Naples Herald
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