Youth doesn’t win championships in college basketball. Kentucky was the outlier when it won in 2012. Anthony Davis was a freak.
Duke is led by a group of freshmen, but these young Blue Devils are some of the best players in the country.
Could they lead Duke to a national title?Freshmen have accounted for 54 percent of Duke’s points, 49.5 percent of its rebounds, and 58.7 percent of its assists this season.
Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor helped Duke beat Wisconsin on the road earlier in the season, and Jones helped Duke secure a 92-90 overtime victory Wednesday. He finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists.
Okafor has gotten the boatload of the attention, whether it’d be from the media or opposing teams. But Justise Winslow and Jones have proved themselves just as worthy of national recognition.
Winslow had scored in double-figures in 18 of Duke’s first 26 games, including a career-high 20 points in a 73-65 victory on Jan. 7 at Wake Forest, a game in which Jones and Okafor struggled.
To follow that up, Winslow recorded three consecutive double-doubles in the span of one week. He finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds in a six-point win at Virginia and followed it up with a 15-10 game against Georgia Tech in another close victory for Duke. On Feb. 7, he helped the Blue Devils avenge a 77-73 loss at Notre Dame on Jan. 28 by scoring 19 points and snagging 11 rebounds in a 30-point blowout for the Dukies.
Jones has had his fair share of success, too. Before his 22-point, seven-rebound, eight-assist performance on Wednesday, Jones recorded 16 points and 12 assists during a Feb. 9 victory at Florida State. Jones has had other standout games, but he has been the “model of consistency” this season. He rarely takes a bad or difficult shot, always gets his teammates the ball and involved, and has turned out to be a pretty decent defender at 6’1 and 190 pounds (that weight is being very generous).
Okafor has been the man-child. Any player who shoots 66.1 percent from the field and averages 18 points per game is pretty much unstoppable. He has also been an animal on the boards. While he only has 10 double-doubles on the season, Okafor has total a of 21 games where he has grabbed at least seven rebounds. He isn’t Superman, though. Like most big men, Okafor’s downfall is his horrendous free throw shooting. He is shooting 54.8 percent for the season.
Duke is about more than just its three talented freshmen. Of course when you have one of the greatest basketball coaches ever on the sidelines, it makes everybody’s job a little easier.
I think Duke is bound to get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. What else would you expect? The remaining part of its schedule isn’t difficult, either. The Blue Devils will face North Carolina in a couple of weeks. That’s the only ranked team left on Duke’s schedule.
The ACC Tournament might be a bit of a challenge for the Blue Devils but if they make it to the championship game, they should be rewarded with a No. 1 seed.
I expect the three freshmen to perform in the tournament once it starts. I don’t see a first-round loss to Mercer coming any time soon. In fact, I don’t know if Duke will lose in the tournament.
We’ll just have to wait and see.