A year ago, Duke blasted Kentucky to begin its season in the Champions Classic and set the tone for the age of Zion Williamson. Williamson is in the NBA now and Duke has a new team of highly touted freshmen in his place. There weren’t as many fireworks this time around, but the Blue Devils still handled No. 3 Kansas 68-66 in Madison Square Garden.
Duke took control of the game in the second half with a balanced scoring effort led by sophomore point guard Tre Jones, who finished with 15 points, six rebounds, and six assists on 5-of-14 shooting. Duke only shot 36 percent from the field in the win, but its defense wrecked havoc with ball pressure to hold onto the lead throughout the second half.
Kansas turned the ball over 27 times in the loss. Sophomore point guard Devon Dotson was impressive scoring the ball in defeat, finishing with 17 points on 5-of-10 shooting, but you can bet head coach Bill Self will talk to his team about taking better care of the ball.
These were our takeaways from Duke and Kansas to after one game.
Duke has impressive depth, but no clear star
Mike Krzyzewski is known for riding short rotations into March, but he’s going to have a dilemma trimming it down this year because he has so many capable players at his disposal. On opening night, Duke’s rotation went nine deep with every player attempting at least three shots from the field. The days of Duke relying on the superhuman efforts of one or two players appears to be over.
Duke has a nice veteran core this year, with Jones drawing most of the headlines after choosing to return for his sophomore year. There’s also Jordan Goldwire to provide some playmaking and defense in the backcourt, as well as Javin DeLaurier and Jack White in the front court. Add in the talented freshman class, and Coach K will have some time and flexibility to play around with his lineups before March.
Duke’s freshmen are still effective even if they aren’t superstars
There is no freshman on Duke’s roster this season that will be as productive as R.J. Barrett or as tantalizing as Cameron Reddish, let alone as superhuman as Williamson. In their place is another esteemed collection of talent that can be effective if not nearly as magnetic.
Cassius Stanley finished with 13 points and might have been Duke’s best player in the win. He is a monster athlete on the wing with a 46-inch vertical who looked great in transition and as a slasher on opening night. Matthew Hurt — likely Duke’s top draft prospect — also showed off his inside-out game to finish with 11 points and three three-pointers.
Matthew Hurt's first bucket with Duke pic.twitter.com/6NpIQZ9aen— Basketball Society (@bbsociety_) November 6, 2019
There’s also Vernon Carey Jr. (11 points, six rebounds), and Wendell Moore (two points on 1-of-6 shooting) who both profile as major contributors down the line.
Everything runs through Udoka Azubuike for Kansas
The biggest matchup problem in college basketball is Kansas’ Udoka Azubuike, a statement that works both literally and figuratively. The center is back in Lawrence for his junior season, and he remains every bit as massive (listed at 7-foot, 275 pounds) as he’s ever been. Hulking big men like this may be outdated in the NBA, but until KU meets a team that can run him off the floor, expect almost every Jayhawks’ possession to run through Azubuike in the halfcourt.
Azubuike battled foul trouble throughout the night to finish with a modest eight points and nine rebounds, but his presence loomed over the entire game. It’s already apparent Bill Self’s preferred offensive attack will start with getting the ball to his big man in the post. Kansas has a bit of a space crunch inside with the similarly huge David McCormack (6’10, 265 pounds) starting next to him, but there isn’t a player in America who can stop Azubuike from getting two points if he gets deep post position and finds single coverage.
Kansas might not have enough shooting
Azubuike’s gravity inside would be more meaningful on a spaced floor with shooters dotting the arc. That isn’t the kind of team Kansas has. The Jayhawks shot just 4-of-11 from three-point range, putting too many non-shooters on the perimeter to make teams pay for doubling Azubuike.
Sophomore guard Devon Dotson projects as the only reliable shooter in the starting lineup. He’s flanked by Marcus Garrett who went 12-of-49 (24.5 percent) on threes last season, and Ochai Agbaji, who hit 30 percent of his threes last year on just over three attempts per game. There isn’t a ton of shooting on the bench yet either, though freshman Jalen Wilson could provide some as the season goes on.
Agbaji did hit two three-pointers vs. Duke, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Kansas is huge inside with fast guards and slashing wings. But if a team can’t shoot, it’s hard to win it all the way the game is played today.