If you were able to watch the marquee games in college basketball last week then you found yourself treated to a variety of fantastic performances. We saw the Blue Devils take the Maui Invitational with gritty wins against Tennessee, Michigan, and Kansas. The Kansas game resembled an NCAA tournament game as both teams displayed toughness and heart in a nail biter. Duke found an unlikely hero in Tyler Thornton as he drained two three pointers to stick a dagger in Kansas. Here are a few points I observed throughout the tournament for Duke:
- Duke is remarkably balanced. Any number of players can score in double figures on any game night. Opposing defenses will have to pick their poison when they play the Devils.
- Seth Curry is not as smart as I thought. He is a remarkably intelligent player, but he seems to force plays if the Devils find themselves under pressure. I think a lot of this can be attributed to his first season as a point guard and he will adjust in time.
- Ryan Kelly’s beard cannot rival Zoubek’s grizzly bear look, but this kid can play. He’s patient on defense, positions himself well and blocks shots extremely well. Furthermore his offensive game will give opponents fits as he can score from anywhere.
- Mason Plumlee hit free throws! He played great defense! Double-doubles!
- Miles Plumlee regressed! This saddens me, but hopefully he can develop throughout the season.
- Austin Rivers was benched for the last minutes of the Kansas game because of his defensive liabilities. However, he took it in stride and was the team’s biggest cheerleader down the stretch. Once he starts to develop his defensive skills then other teams need to watch out because he is big and quick.
- Where are the freshmen? Outside of Austin Rivers none of the Duke freshmen see any significant time. I predict Quinn Cook will be an amazing point guard in his junior and senior years, but there are too many better players in front of him. But this year there will be a time when Duke needs a tall small forward to guard someone like Harrison Barnes and hopefully Murphy or Gbinije will be ready, but it’s worrisome when they aren’t seeing any minutes this early in the season.
- This team has a high ceiling and I’m looking forward to their development. Will they win a national championship? Probably not, but they will compete with any team down to the wire.
UNC was upset by an aggressive UNLV team in the Las Vegas Invitational tournament, but UNC fans do not have to worry, yet. UNC will bounce back, but they have some issues they need to address. This is the second UNC game I’ve been able to see this season and I had a few thoughts on the team.
- Kendall Marshall is an absolutely brilliant passer. My jaw dropped over and over again as I watched him make perfect full-court passes to players in transition. However, he’s not much of a scoring threat, he’s a little slow and his defense is atrocious. If he develops a balanced game I would easily designate him as the best point guard in the country, but he has some things he needs to work on.
- Where is the rebounding? UNC is extremely tall but they’ve had rebounding issues against stiff competition. They need to crash the boards so teams stop getting multiple shots in a single possession.
- Harrison Barnes has a killer instinct. Every time I watch this kid play I reminisce for “what could have been” if he went to Duke. Against UNLV he shot poorly, but he demanded the ball. He wanted to win the game in crunch time. Barnes resembles a young Kobe Bryant, an exceedingly talented player who hasn’t put it all together yet, but he wants to be “the guy,” and he fits the bill well.
- Three-point shooting may doom this team, on offense and defense. UNLV made thirteen three-pointers against UNC, shooting a respectable 40.6%. UNLV also gained five offensive rebounds off missed threes. Three of those offensive rebounds translated to a dunk and two made threes for UNLV. UNC must learn how to defend the three and rebound any misses. On the offensive end UNC’s starting lineup is filled with woeful three-point shooters, but they have two gunners on the bench. Will Roy Williams be able to effectively utilize Reggie Bullock and PJ Hairston as the season goes on?
- Against UNC no lead is safe. Even though UNLV was able to hold off the Tar Heels in the waning stages of the game most other teams will not be as lucky. This UNC team can score a lot, in a short amount of time.