Duke is becoming scary good
The Blue Devils are loaded, and they’re only getting better.
Kentucky’s bid for an undefeated regular season has been the talk of college basketball thus far, but there’s another blue-blood program out East that’s been every bit as impressive. Duke already had a decisive victory against a top-five Wisconsin team on its home floor and quality wins over Michigan State and Stanford before it met UConn Thursday. Once again, the Blue Devils used the opportunity to show just how good they are in a 66-56 win over the Huskies.
UConn fell to 4-4 with the loss, but there’s still enough talent here to make Kevin Ollie’s team a factor in March. The Huskies have one bad loss at the buzzer (Yale), but there’s no shame in losing to teams as good as West Virginia, Texas and now the Blue Devils. UConn has one of the best shot creators in the country in senior guard Ryan Boatright, a productive freshman wing in Daniel Hamilton and a budding center in sophomore Amida Brimah. The Huskies hung tough to make it a six-point game with four minutes left, but ultimately they couldn’t slow down Duke.
What was built as a matchup between Brimah and Duke’s star freshman center Jahlil Okafor ended up mostly being a bust. After scoring 40 points on 13-of-13 shooting in his last game against Coppin State, foul trouble limited Brimah against Okafor. He finished the game with zero points, one rebound and two blocks in 13 minutes. That’s the type of effect Okafor has on people.
Okafor has been in the spotlight since he was in eighth grade. That’s how early prodigious basketball talents are noticed. It’s safe to say he’s lived up to the hype at every level. Okafor had 12 points and eight rebounds on 3-of-5 shooting against UConn, and everything the Blue Devils did ran through him. You’ll see highlights like this spinning dunk all year long, but what’s more important for Duke’s success is plays like this one where Okafor finds the open mind out of the post:
If Okafor is the gravitational pull that keeps everything in balance for Duke, he’s far from a one-man army. Duke is probably starting three future NBA standouts right now. It’s likely not even Kentucky can say that. The stats are backing up the talent: at the moment, Duke has the No. 1 offense and No. 12 defense in the country, per KenPom.
Let’s begin with Justise Winslow, who went bananas in the second half. During one stretch, he had a chase down block, a three-pointer, a steal and then a tip-in. Visual evidence of the first one:
There’s a reason Draft Express has Winslow at No. 6 right now. The Houston native is a two-way stud at 6’7, 230 pounds, and he’s the perfect compliment for this Duke team because he doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective. That’s a good thing for Duke because the man with the ball in his hands is always going to be Tyus Jones.
Jones busted out in front of a national audience when he dropped 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting against Wisconsin. He was just as dominant against a good UConn backcourt, finishing with 21 points on 5-of-11 shooting.
It’s already looking like Jones, who doesn’t turn 19 until May, is the best college guard in the country. He isn’t the most physically imposing player in the world at 6’1, 190 pounds, but he’s displaying all of the “pure point guard” instincts that people love to see in the position.
If there was one question mark in his game heading into this season as a top-five recruit, it might have been his shooting. He has silenced all that. Jones is posting a 62.8 true shooting percentage right now, and hit two more threes against UConn Thursday. There’s not much he can’t do.
The freshmen have been good enough to warrant all the attention they’re getting, but of course Quinn Cook, Amile Jefferson (11 points and 13 rebounds against UConn) and sixth man Rasheed Sulaimon deserve credit, too. On Thursday, Duke didn’t get a single point from its bench and still beat a good team by 10. While the reserve unit is certainly capable, it just goes to show how dominant these starters really are.
No one talks about Duke going undefeated because the ACC is just too hard. From Jan. 17 to Jan. 31, Duke will play four road games against ranked teams. It’s the type of competition that’s going to prepare them for March.
The Blue Devils aren’t the circus that Kentucky is right now, but might be just as good. Each passing game is proving just how powerful this team can be.