As the college basketball season approaches, we are in yet another familiar position with Duke and Kentucky topping out the preseason rankings. But, preseason rankings are to be taken with a grain of salt come March. Despite notching all three of the top recruits in the 2018 high school class, Duke still has areas of concern on their roster.
Forward Log Jam
The 2017 high school class was star-studded with big men like Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter, Mohamed Bamba and DeAndre Ayton who all went in the top seven of this year’s NBA Draft. This year, the incoming one and done class is loaded with wing forwards. RJ Barrett, Cameron Reddish, and Zion Williamson are all forwards as the top three prospects.
All committed to Duke, Coach K will have to figure out how to properly rotate these three players without creating a log jam at the forward spot. Luckily, Duke has All-American point guard and brother of Tyus Jones, Tre Jones — to move the ball around. Last season, Coach K successfully used Wendell Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley on the same floor without hurting their draft stock.
Zion Williamson will be the most interesting fit into the Duke lineup, as he is built like an NBA center — but only stands 6’6″ as a power forward. Not to mention, Williamson’s skills are raw right now outside of his athleticism. He does not have a consistent jump shot yet, or a post game when matched up with smaller guards. His situation is similar to both Julius Randle and Kentucky and Cliff Alexander at Kansas.
Randle was able to be drafted high and succeeds in the NBA using the ‘bully ball’ method being undersized at center. But, it can backfire like Cliff Alexander at Kansas. He was a 6’9″ center out of Chicago, third overall recruit in 2014 (ahead of Karl Anthony Towns).
Unfortunately, he could not improve his post game and other skills at Kansas, resulting in going undrafted — and now he is out of the NBA. It is extremely rare to see a player ranked that high leave the league so fast. But, moving up from high school, to Kansas, to the NBA is difficult if skills never materialize.
The one and done era is now fully immersed into the blue blood programs as it seems these teams get younger and younger every season. Duke could roll out a starting lineup with five freshman next season that includes Tre Jones, RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson, Cameron Reddish and Joey Baker.
After losing Grayson Allen, and their entire 2017 recruiting class to the NBA Draft — it is time for rinse and repeat at Duke again. Five new players who all need to be drafted high next season need to gel fast in order to force a deep run in March Madness.
Despite the success of the one and one method as it pertains to draft picks, it backfires often. March is often dominated by older players who have been there. Remember, in 2015 the Wisconsin Badgers defeated the 38-0 Kentucky Wildcats in the Final Four. Wisconsin was loaded with seniors who have played together for years, while Kentucky consisted of freshman and sophomores.
To top it off, Coach K will once again have a team that has no depth off the bench unless players make huge improvements in the offseason. Players like Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier, and Alex O’Connell will be back and experienced but it is unclear how much impact they will make.
Bolden made impact on the glass and on defense, but showed little ability to get it going offensively. His post game development is key for the Blue Devils success this season. O’Connell and DeLaurier often looked confused on offense this season, quickly passing after receiving the ball.
Both players are young, so they could make huge strides this season. But, it will be difficult for Duke if Coach K can only go six players deep on the roster in March.
You might point out, didn’t Duke win a title with the one and done’s leading the way? Why yes they did. But, the 2015 championship team wasn’t solely lead by one and done players like this year’s squad. The 2015 team had senior Quinn Cook, junior Amile Jefferson, and sophomore Matt Jones who all had large impact on that title r