DURHAM, N.C. – Duke freshman forward RJ Barrett has announced that he will enter his name in the 2019 NBA Draft.
A first-team All-ACC selection, a consensus first-team All-American, and the USA Today National Player of the Year, Barrett was tied for the ACC lead in scoring with classmate Zion Williamson at 22.6 points per game. He broke both the Duke and ACC freshman scoring records with 860 points, and finished with the second most points by a Duke player in a single season, trailing only the 941 points by J.J. Redick in his 2006 senior campaign.
“From start to finish, RJ was there every second,” said head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “He played the most minutes, broke scoring records and was consistently excellent. He became one of our best defensive rebounders, and was close to triple-doubles quite a bit because of his scoring, rebounding and assists. Having reclassified to come to Duke early, he’s just so advanced for this stage of his career. He comes from an incredible family, he’s a winner in every sense, and it was so special to have RJ in our program.”
Barrett was the only Blue Devil to start all 38 games, leading the team to a 32-6 record, the final AP No. 1 ranking, an ACC Championship and the Elite Eight. The freshman averaged 7.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists and recorded just the program’s fourth triple double with 21 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists against NC State on Feb. 16.
“I want to thank the Duke fans for their love and support all season,” said Barrett. “It was amazing to play for Coach K, and have such a special season that included an ACC Championship. It was always a dream of mine to play for Duke, and it’s also a dream of mine to play in the NBA and have great success there. After discussing with my family and coaches, I have decided to declare for the 2019 NBA Draft. I want to thank the Crazies and the entire Duke community for everything you’ve given to me. I’ll always be a part of the Brotherhood and I hold that very near and dear to my heart.”
Barrett was the only major conference player to score 13 or more points in every game he played. He and Williamson became the first freshman teammates in NCAA history to each average 20 points in a season. Barrett’s 402 points in home games broke the Cameron Indoor Stadium single-season record.
The Blue Devils have had at least one player selected in 31 of 38 NBA Drafts under Krzyzewski. Coach K has tutored a total of 61 draft picks since taking over the Duke program, including a draft-record 38 first-round selections.
Duke has produced 18 first-round picks in the last 10 seasons, including at least one in each of the last eight years. Thirteen of Duke’s last 15 picks, and 20 of the last 25, have come in the first round, including 13 lottery picks.
The Duke Blue Devils will take on the Michigan State Spartans with a trip to the Final Four on the line. With the game just hours away, let's take a look at the matchup.
Forget the Past
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski has a gaudy record against Michigan State and Tom Izzo. Duke leads the series 12-2 and has a 4-1 mark in the NCAA Tournament, but forget about it for that means nothing when the ball is tipped tomorrow. These two teams have only one thing in common with the past and that is their uniforms and being two top-notch programs. The record book means nothing.
Forty Minutes and maybe more
Duke must come out willing to play consistently. The Blue Devils squandered some mild leads to hang on against Central Florida and Virginia Tech with lapses. Whichever team is prepared to bring it end to end and the one with the best focus will enjoy a trip to the Final Four. A season ago, the basketball Gods were unkind to a Grayson Allen tip in that rimmed out. If you take care of your business it may not come down to that,
Respect your opponent
I doubt the Duke staff lets the team be overconfident. If this does not happen, the team returns to Durham and some of the talented freshmen will soon be gone. Teams must live in the moment and make the safe plays at times over the crowd-pleasing ones for the margin of error shrinks in tournament games, especially the Elite Eight.
Will Cam play?
Sure, Cam Reddish can knock down the three ball, but his defense is underrated. His presence allows Duke to play the passing lanes in a more active manner and his long arms take up a lot of space. Reddish is a game-time decision, but the team will need him.
The Spartans are Red Hot
Sparty is 10-1 in their last eleven games and they swept Michigan who most thought should be flip-flopped in their regions. Obviously, the one and two seeds made it to the final in the East to nobody's surprise. Duke is hot too after winning the ACC Tournament but they have looked quite mortal of late. This game means the world to the Spartans fan base, but the same holds true for Duke and this is one of Mike Krzyzewski's best shots to make it back to the Final Four since 2015.
Duke Must Be Strong with the Ball
Michigan State plays stellar half-court defense where it seems like hands are everywhere. When Duke is in its half-court offense they need to pay attention to having strong hands for if not, the turnovers will come. In a game with this meaning, making safe plays outweighs the showtime style.
The Word is Out
In my preseason preview, I mentioned four possible weaknesses. The first, of course, was injuries in that Duke is not especially deep with players ready for prime time. The second was that they could struggle from the three-point stripe and third, free throw shooting would be important. The fourth thing I listed was that teams with good guards and physical wings would give Duke trouble, especially if they hit the three ball. Well, Michigan State fits the bill. Duke must push them off the stripe and make them drive.
May the Stars be Stars
Zion Williamson has had an amazing season and he should touch the ball in every half court possession. Good things happen when he gets the ball. The same goes for RJ Barrett who is a flat out stat stuffer. Michigan State has a lot of capable defenders to guard him, so his vision will play a key role. Making the safe passes will make Duke more efficient and tougher to beat.
Board the Offensive Glass
Duke has not been especially good on the offensive glass of late and Michigan State is a solid rebounding team. And they board from many positions with their activity. Duke needs to block out and hustle for the loose balls in this contest.
Of course, it will be tense...
This is a matchup of college basketball heavyweights. The Big 10 Champ against the ACC Champ and that means there will be plenty of tense moments. Duke has won their last two games by 2 points and they may have another game that comes down to the final buzzer. Hey, whatever it takes, right?
Mike Krzyzewski mentioned that his team was fresh coming into the D.C. regional or fresher was his exact term. Does that still hold true after the late game where the team got little rest? It will probably depend on how the staff handles this evening before the 5:05 start.
What will happen?
Who knows, but it will be a battle of styles. Duke will try to get out and press some while Michigan State will lean heavily on the three ball while hitting the board with their usual reckless abandon. Can Duke get back to more dominating performances? Will Michigan State play lights out ball to end the pain of their past against Duke? It will come down to heart and soul and playing a good forty minutes of basketball.
The X-Factor could be an unexpected player stepping up and whether Duke is with or without Cam Reddish, their whole roster needs to play well. The problem with the X-Factor is that it can work both ways and players who step up become heroes.
The Last Word
Do not look ahead. Be in the moment and you may cut down the nets as the Eastern Regional Champs. Texas Tech upset Gonzaga and awaits the winner, but that is to be discussed once the business at hand is accomplished.
Duke may have been able to play Zion Williamson during the regular season or before the ACC Tournament but elected to sit the National Player of the Year to be. The sacrifice was clearly worth it. A fresh fully healed Williamson seems poised to follow-up on his ACC Most Outstanding Player with even better play in his home state of South Carolina. So while Duke finished third in the ACC regular season, they cut down the nets when it counted for more. In doing so earned the number one seed and the number one ranking in the final polls.
Can youth handle being the favorite?
This year's Duke team does not have a senior team captain, Quin Cook running things nor a guy who has stepped up big time like the former Brian Zoubek and his former roommate Jon Scheyer. The aforementioned veteran players played vital roles in the 2010 and 2015 National Championships. This seasons team which is the fifth youngest group in the nation will depend more on some really talented youngsters. Despite the talent, how will they handle things when the games get close? Well, Mike Krzyzewski and his staff will fill some of the voids, but this group must take the games one at a time and tune out the hype as best they can. Fifteen of thirty ESPN experts have picked Duke to win it all. That fact epitomizes the media pressure.
Sooner rather than later for Bolden?
The news came out yesterday that Marques Bolden had returned to practice via Javin DeLaurier. It only makes sense that Duke puts him back into the rotation the second he is ready. The reason, of course, is to develop team chemistry and to quickly get him back into game shape over the next week. Duke will not need the junior center in their first outing in Columbia but seeing him by the Sunday game would be encouraging.
Focussing on what is in front of you
The staff will make sure that Duke takes it one game at a time in the tournament. The cold, harsh reality of one loss and done has entered the picture and that means you must focus on the job at hand. Duke cannot control whom they play, when, etc. The Friday-Sunday match up should work out well in that one your players have an extra day of rest. The team might see a higher seed go down the day before which emphasizes the importance of focus.
Enjoy the show
Fans will one day look back on this Duke team as a special one no matter what they do in the tournament. The reason being the collection of young talent. Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett are destined for greatness in the NBA. You just do not see two players of this caliber on the same team and likely never will again. At season's end, both players will have averaged over 20 ppg and no freshman duo has ever done such a thing.
Duke will be playing at Columbia Life Arena in Columbia, S.C. They will have an open practice for the media and public on Thursday starting at 3:25. Their first game on Friday will tip-off promptly at 7:10 and will be televised by CBS. Are you going to the games and looking for something to do on an off day? Try Riverbanks Zoo or Columbia Canal on the Riverpark or visit the South Carolina State Museum.
Coach K and #1 Ranking
Duke finishes the regular and conference tournament season ranked #1 in the nation. Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski had led Duke to that ranking 123 weeks which is the most of any coach in the history of the sport. Krzyzewski has an amazing 94-29 record in the NCAA Tournament.
Javin DeLaurier's on his two NCAA Tournament experiences and what he can pass on to the younger guys:
“My freshman year we lost in the first weekend and last year we lost in the Elite Eight so really just telling everyone you have to take it one game at a time. It’s got to be for the full 40 minutes and you can’t look ahead to the next opponent, because if you do that, you can slip up and lose. It’s March Madness for a reason and teams you never thought would lose go down all the time and we don’t want to be one of them.”
Tre Jones remembering the atmosphere during the 2015 NCAA Tournament when his older brother Tyus played:
“It’s definitely different. It’s different than a regular game, the atmosphere is different, the energy is different, guys are playing harder and everything is on the line and just being able to see that at a young age – I don’t really know how to say it but I was only a freshman in high school at the time and I put out a goal for myself that I wanted to be in that moment one day and not that I’m here and I’m in that moment is going to be
fun to partake in it.”
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It's been a pretty darn entertaining year for the 2018-19 Duke Blue Devils basketball team. The Blue Devils started the regular season with a beat down of Kentucky but ended it with their second loss to North Carolina and a third-place regular season finish.
Injuries played a big role in the late season struggles where several Duke players missed time, including Zion Williamson. Duke would right the ship with Williamson back in the lineup with three wins in the ACC Tournament and in the end, are the conference champions.
Duke enters the NCAA Tournament as the nation's number one seed and they will play not too far south in Columbia, S.C. in an effort to survive and advance. With Zion Williamson, the nations tops player, in his home state, good things are likely to happen for Duke.
The Blue Devils should be well rested with their game tipping off this Friday promptly at 7:10 on CBS. They will also get what amounts to be an easy game where they face the winner or North Carolina Central and North Dakota State. Both of those teams are 18-15 and the winners will be playing on two days rest.
Duke should be able to use their depth early and often in the opening game which will further rest any minor nagging injuries to their players. The second game will be more challenging, if not on the court, then in other ways.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski might well face his first great recruit in Johnny Dawkins and Central Florida. It is a known fact, that Krzyzewski does not like to face his former players when they are at the helm at other schools.
Then again, Duke may face Virginia Commonwealth and few Duke fans will forget losing to them in the NCAA Tournament during the 2006-07 season. The UCF and VCU game is expected to be close. The Golden Knights are a 1.5 point favorite, so it is tough to project who the opponent will be with any certainty.
Regardless of the opponent, Duke should make it through to Washington. D.C. In years past, this would seem less certain, but RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson are on this team and those two guys will be etched in Duke fans memories for years to come in that they are both destined for more greatness.
Quite simply, Duke should take care of business with a team that is peaking at the right time. They may have a challenge for a bit in games if they are not focussed but it would be a shock for them not to advance.
The Blue Devils are in a position to be a rested team as the tournament advances. What you want to avoid are injuries while working on areas of concern, such as ironing out the rotation that will be used as the team seeking its sixth national title adjusts for the prime time of the season.
It would benefit Duke for Cam Reddish to get a little more comfortable in the rotation by involving him more in Columbia. Tre Jones needs to continue being aggressive on offense for he is money from the free throw stripe, an area where the star freshmen struggle.
The Blue Devils could also use the trip to possibly shore up their three-point shooting while continuing to tweak their already good defense. What the staff is likely looking for is a more consistent effort by its rotation players as well for good things happen when all the players contribute in the box score.
And speaking of contrinutions, Marques Bolden has returned to practice. This is another key to chemistry, especially if Duke is able to get him some minutes this weekend.
The bottom line is that Duke has too much firepower on offense to stumble this early, but Krzyzewski probably rolls over when people pencil them forward with such ease. It is not for a lack of respect for the opponent that has me saying what I have but instead, the respect I have for the talent on this years team.
And did I mention that Zion Williamson will be playing in his home state this weekend? Let the games begin!