Through the first three weeks of the NCAA season, the Duke Blue Devils have established themselves as the favorites to win the National Championship. It’s only early December, but Duke already has wins over Michigan State, Texas, Florida and a true road victory over Indiana.
Marvin Bagley has proven that he belongs in the top three conversation in the 2018 NBA Draft. Through the first ten games, Bagley is averaging 22 points and over 11 rebounds a game on 60% shooting from the field. If he can boost his three point percentage (29%), there may not be a more unstoppable player in the country.
Senior Grayson Allen (featured) has been clutch down the stretch, and has evolved into a great second option, knocking down 45% of his triples.
While Trevon Duval’s jumpshot has looked pitiful (17% from three), he’s shown off good burst while driving to the basket, and has looked strong as a facilitator. Wendell Carter would likely be putting up Bagley-type numbers if he didn’t play in the same frontcourt as him, and if he saw a minutes increase from 24.7 a night.
Gary Trent rounds out the starting five, and scores in double figures, despite shooting more poorly than originally thought coming out of high school.
However, like most Duke teams, this squad is not very deep on the bench. Get this team in foul trouble early, and you might have a shot. But who are the best teams to do that?
While the Tarheels looked awful against Michigan State two weeks ago, they’ll still always be a threat to Duke.
Luke Maye (above) has exploded as a junior, averaging a double-double through the first nine games of the season while hitting 44% of his threes. Joel Berry II is one of the best point guards in the country, even if he is undersized. The senior always plays under control, and won’t shrink under pressure.
Kenny Williams has also been a breakout star for the Tarheels, more than doubling his scoring averages from a year ago. Theo Pinson is another veteran on this roster, and he gives this team a chip on their shoulder and is the emotional leader. While UNC’s bench may not be strong, they’re probably a little deeper than Duke.
Much like North Carolina, Notre Dame’s one blemish is a waxing at the hands of Michigan State. However, the Irish do have a top-10 win over Wichita State. In that game, Notre Dame fell behind by 16 but was able to rally back. Bonzie Colson (above), the Preseason ACC Player of the Year, led the charge with 25 and 11.
The 6’6” senior plays astonishingly like Charles Barkley, even if his ceiling at the next level is nowhere near that of the Hall of Famer.
The backcourt of Matt Farrell and TJ Gibbs is extremely underrated, with Farrell being an excellent floor general, and Gibbs hitting over 50% of his three attempts. While those three are their Big Three, Rex Pflueger and DJ Harvey are two extremely talented role players for the Irish.
Notre Dame loves to spread it out and shoot the three, as well as run a healthy diet pick and roll actions. Mike Brey might be one of the best coaches in the country. This is a program that has played Duke close in essentially all of their meetings over the last four years, and could very well go into Cameron Indoor and shock Duke again.
Despite all that’s happened with Louisville over the last couple of months, this is still a competitive team. They have lost at the hands of two tournament teams in Seton Hall and Purdue. Before they begin conference play, they have two more tests in Indiana (who fought Duke hard for 37 minutes) and at Kentucky. Those two games will be a barometer for where this team is.
With only one player averaging double figures in scoring, this is a team that will be relying on their defense in just about every single game. Deng Adel (above) is that leading scorer, and has boosted his scoring averages again, despite seeing his three ball not fall too often early. Ray Spalding has also seen a boost in production, averaging over nine points and nine rebounds a game.
V.J. King is a super talented redshirt sophomore, who could develop into the 2nd option behind Adel as the season moves along. This is a sneaky deep team, led by two solid forwards and good point guard in Quentin Snider.
There’s a good blend of highly ranked freshman, as well as some veteran leadership. It may take a while for Louisville to find their stride, but if they do, they can go toe-to-toe with anyone. Who knows where this team could wind up if they ever reinstate Brian Bowen?
Miami’s best win was on the road at Minnesota, who’s been a trendy pick to make a surprise run in the NCAA Tournament. Sophomore Dewan Huell was outstanding, scoring 23 points in what was a close game for the whole 40. Huell leads this team in scoring, but fellow sophomore Bruce Brown (above) has been their best player.
Brown has taken his game to the next level. His scoring is essentially the same as it was last year, but he’s been outstanding on the glass, averaging 8.6 rebounds as a 6’5” perimeter player. He’s shown off an increased ability to distribute, while knocking down over 40% of his threes. The one main blemish for him has been the free throw shooting, which currently sits at 43%.
Top-15 recruit Lonnie Walker IV is still not 100% following a torn meniscus over the summer. Once he’s fully healthy, Miami could have the best backcourt in the conference.
Cover Photo via Duke Report
Other Media via Tar Heel Blog, Sports Illustrated, The Cardinal Connect and Canes Watch