Duke looks like it's King of the Hill--and it's only November

Duke opened its hoop season with a 34-point win over---Kentucky and Blue Devils are young and very very talented


Let's start with some full disclosure. I HATE November college basketball. In my world, the college basketball season would not begin until Dec. 1 with only a few exceptions for some established Thanksgiving tournaments such as the Maui Classic and the Great Alaska Shootout (they still exist, do they not?, This is one of the times when I really miss my dear friend Oc, the late Associated Press national college basketball writer Jim O'Connell., who would not only the teams playing, but the brackets, starting times, etc).

But that world doesn't exist. Instead, we are in a world where the beast of television must be fed with live programming. So we have November basketball and sometimes there are great match ups such as Tuesday's games in Indianapolis between Kansas and Michigan State and Kentucky and Duke.

But even those games cause me to yawn.

Seriously, what value does a regular season game between any two teams in November have in March? Does anyone care, or remember? Really?

With that as a preface, I spent Tuesday night, watching Mid-term Election results, the latest CFB Playoff Committee rankings show (more about that later) and began watching House of Cards, Season 6 (worth it). I only went to the Kansas-Michigan State game because the CFB show was scheduled to start on ESPN at 9 pm Eastern, but the hoop game was running late, so I watched the last few minutes of KU's victory. I was only minimally interested in Duke-Kentucky, not because the match up wasn't interesting (but not in November) and I know and like both Coach K and Coach Cal, but because it was November basketball.

Fast forward to Wednesday morning when I checked late election results--recount again in the Florida Senate race? Nah and then flipped on Golic and Wingo who were talking about an extraordinary performance in the Duke-Kentucky game.

So being nosy or curious, I checked it out some more. Duke the No. 4 team in the pre-season polls (even more meaningless than college football rankings) had beaten the Wildcats by the score of ....118-84.

Excuse me.

This wasn't Duke opening a game against someone like The Citadel.

This was No. 2 Kentucky. The Wildcats losing a game by 34 points? Come on.

I knew Duke was good and in one of the great ironies if you want to use that term, saw how Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski had embraced "one and done'' as a way of coaching agtin in 2018. Duke had the consensus Top 2 freshman recruits in RJ. Barrett and Zion Williamson and a third recruit, Cam Reddish was a solid Top 10 pick. The Blue Devils rotation included four freshman starters, who almost everyone agreed would probably be headed for the NBA by June.

The irony here is that Kentucky Coach John Calipari, the father of the ""One and done'' philosophy had been vilified for years for ruining the integrity of the game for his recruiting attitude, which brought in rent-a-players for a season.

Of course, if Coach K does it--for a few years now--it is OK. Yeah, right.

Anyway, now I was interested enough to watch highlights, read stories. Yes, this Duke team is special, maybe historically so. Yes, they are talented. Coach K has told us so.

"I'm very proud of my guys, said Coach K, talking primarily about Barnett, a 6-foot-7 inch forward, who produced 33 points, rebounds, 5 assists in 32 minutes, Williamson, also a 6-7 forward, with 28 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists, and Reddish, a 6/7 G/F, who added 22 points, 2 rebounds and 3 assists in 24 minutes of playing time. ""You start four freshmen, no matter how talented they are, you never know what they are going to do in this environment against an outstanding team and great program. And they responded. They were magnificent.''

How good?

Let's cut to the chase.

In the history of college basketball, only seven teams went undefeated and won the national championship--the last team to achieve that milestone was Coach Bob Knight's 1976 Indiana team. In the history of college basketball, only 19 teams went through the regular season unbeaten.

As recently as four years ago, Coach Cal was chasing history when his 2015 Wildcat team, loaded with freshmen, went 38-0 before losing to Wisconsin in the Final Four semifinals.

This Duke team may follow that same path. And yes, with that many freshmen, there are dozens of potential pot holes which could derail the Blue Devil express. But in Coach K, they have someone who knows how to deal with it and react to it.

Coach Cal was not stingy with his praise, but he was also cautious. ""They are a very good team, Calipari said. ""If they play like that, they 're not going to lose many games--it that's what they are.''

Yeah, it is still November and I still don't care about what happens in college basketball, but I will be checking out just how Devlish Duke continues to be as we move into the college hoop season.