Duke’s performance against Boston College needs to be put in perspective. First, the Eagles, while they play hard, don’t have great talent. And without Quentin Post, they are small. Right now, the tallest player they have is 6-9 TJ Bickerstaff.
That said, we may look back at this game as a bit of a watershed.
Because Dereck Lively and Dariq Whitehead are rounding into form as they return from injuries, and that changes things, and possibly a lot.
In the first few minutes of the game, Lively was a nightmare for Boston College. If anyone tried to shoot anywhere near the basket, he was on it. He blocked some and changed several others.
And while we’ve seen this before this year, it’s still cool when he blocks a shot when no one has any idea that he’s in position to do it. What’s more terrifying as a shooter than a 7-1 ninja who can come out of nowhere? He’s going to make people second guess themselves when they can’t see him.
And now that he’s getting in condition, he has more endurance and what we’re also seeing is a big guy who can run with anyone.
We saw him going for alley-oops and just in general getting down court very, very quickly.
We’ve already seen that he is not just a good passer but one who makes quick decisions. His impact is only going to grow from here.
That’s true for Whitehead too.
His injury was far more significant than Lively’s and his rehab has been more extensive. Consequently, unlike Lively who has been starting, it’s taken longer for him to get up to speed.
What a lot of people don’t realize is what a razor’s edge of conditioning elite athletes live with. It’s kind of unique.
So Whitehead is working to get back to that extraordinary level of fitness and preparation.
His instincts are resurfacing though.
We saw him hit Lively for a nice lob and reverse dunk, find Tyrese Proctor for an open three and a nice assist, get an open but difficult layup on a break, and grab a rebound for a nice putback.
He’s able to get his own shot in a way that no one else on this team really can.
Both of them are going to help the offense. But they could have a profound impact on defense.
If you can watch the game again on DVR or whatever, first, watch Lively in the first four minutes or so closely. He’s dominating the inside, and he’s fast enough to block a shot from behind before the shooter knows what’s happening. As that reputation spreads, some guys will just be spooked.
We’re not comparing him to Patrick Ewing, but in college, Ewing terrified people. If Lively keeps showing up out of nowhere, he may too.
Now imagine him in the back of the defense with Whitehead, Jeremy Roach, Jaylen Blakes, Mark Mitchell and Tyrese Proctor, or any combination thereof.
We saw hints of this against Boston College when Whitehead was on the court, we think, with Roach and Blakes.
Lively will allow them to extend the pressure and really go after shooters because he can clean up mistakes.
We’re not overlooking Kyle Filipowski here because he can block shots too. We’re looking at a group that can really, really put pressure on a team.
Whitehead will be particularly fun in this sort of scenario. He’s 6-6, and strong (his brother Tahir had a solid NFL career, incidentally). He has the potential to be an amazing defender because he could guard 1-4 and potentially do so with dominance.
These guys were ranked #1 (Lively) and #2 (Whitehead) in this year’s freshman class and everyone is impatient to see what they can do.
We’re about to get a much better idea of how that will play out.
One last thought: now that we’re getting a better idea of their potential, it makes the job Jon Scheyer has done without them that much more impressive.