Not surprisingly, there's a lot of excitement building over Tuesday's Duke-Kansas matchup, but as talented as they both are, it's a mistake to make it about Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins. Both teams are bringing a lot to the table.
Against Louisiana-Monroe, the Jayhawks started Wiggins obviously, Wayne Selden, Frank Mason, Perry Ellis and transfer Tarik Black, who also strongly considered Duke.
Kansas went 10 deep in its opening, with intriguing big man Joel Embiid coming off the bench. He's a freshman obviously and has immense potential. We don't know a great deal yet about the rest of the KU bench, but are assuming they're up to the normal standard.
For whatever reason - we're assuming some redshirts or injuries but don't know yet - Justin Wesley (6-9), Landen Lucas (6-10) and Hunter Mickelson (6-10) didn't play against ULM. That's five guys over 6-9. If Bill Self uses them, Kansas has a significant size advantage.
It'll be interesting, in passing, to see if Marshall Plumlee gets significant minutes to counter KU's big men.
Size is one of those things you can't teach, as the old cliche goes, but it's also hard to teach speed and power. You can refine it, but you can't teach it.
And Duke has a lot of athleticism. In the two games we've seen so far, we saw some tremendous potential. Duke has a core of athletic basketball players who were at times spectacular on offense against Davidson. Shooting 70% is in and of itself spectacular, not to mention 61.9% from three point range (68.8% from the foul line is less so). But break it down a bit: Rodney Hood was 9-10, Parker 8-10, Tyler Thornton 2-3, Quinn Cook 7-9, Amile Jefferson 4-4 and Rasheed Sulaimon 6-9.
That doesn't count marksmen Matt Jones (1-4 in his debut) and Andre Dawkins, who didn't shoot. Either guy could go off for 20 in short order.
And it doesn't factor in that Amile Jefferson played just 11 minutes due to foul trouble. Nor is there a way to pass in the smart passing we saw, particularly from Parker.
He made some really, really smart moves to get the ball where it needed to go and his brilliant shooting really obscured the fact that Parker is an unusually well-rounded player. His biggest issues may be on defense, but that's hardly unusual for a freshman.
And defense is exactly where Duke has a chance to improve tremendously.
We saw hints of it against Davidson - the Wildcats shot 41.9% but at times got some really easy shots. But there were times when Davidson brought the ball downcourt and two Devils were ready to pounce. At times it was Cook and Thornton; at times it was Jones and Ojeleye.
Shots were contested - on one play Jones got beat, recovered, and nearly got a block. Parker has had a couple of block attempts which made the whole gym just go oooooh. And we didn't really get a great look at Jefferson, who has the potential to be a great rebounder and excellent defender. Duke also has four superb defenders in the backcourt with Thornton, Cook, Jones and Sulaimon.
That doesn't consider the improved defense of Andre Dawkins or the always solid defense of Josh Hairston. But the guy who could really make his bones on the defensive end as a freshman is Kansan Semi Ojeleye.
Ojeleye's potential is off the charts. He's a superb athlete and a solid basketball player (not at all the same thing) who will improve very quickly this year. He could develop a niche, for instance, of guarding point guards, or guarding bigger guards (he'd be a very intriguing match up with Kentucky's Harrison twins, though obviously one at a time).
He could also do time as a modern day Robert Brickey and guard the post. He's stronger than Brickey ever was and in terms of overalll ability approaches Corey Maggette.
Obviously there will be days when shots don't fall, and when a team - maybe Kansas - can impose its will on Duke. On those days, Duke's defense will have to step up.
Obviously Kansas is a big step past Davidson, so we don't expect Duke to shoot 70% again. But we think you can measure this game by Duke's defense and what they can to do stop Kansas.
Two things worth remembering, although they could be either good or bad: first, Ojeleye is playing his home state school, and that'll be a big deal for him. But it won't be as big a deal as Parker's playing on the big stage in his hometown in just his second collegiate game. That could lead to a monster performance, or it could be like Seth Curry at Virginia Tech, where his parents were both prominent athletes. If you recall, he was notably excited, and his excitement backfired on him.
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