Duke's destruction of Virginia elevates the Blue Devils to a new level that no other college basketball team can match
And LeBron James was courtside to watch Zion Williamson's most wowing play of the season yet
Allow the most ridiculous college basketball GIF of the season so far -- Zion Williamson's Nightcrawler-esque materialization and subsequent block on De'Andre Hunter -- to serve as the visually poetic and metaphorical embodiment of the catapult the Blue Devils took on Saturday night.
This is preposterous to the point of being comical.
Yes, Duke's victory vs. Virginia was exclamation-marked by the latest and greatest piece of evidence that Williamson has no business playing college basketball. That there, that is physical absurdity. On a night in which Duke set a season-high for 3-pointers (13) and a season-high for 3-point accuracy (61.9 percent), the Williamson wreckage into the third row of the stands was another layer torn back and exposing just how much more incredible this team can be.
"There are probably two people in the world that can make that play, and they were both in the gym," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said, alluding to the fact that Williamson's performance came while LeBron James was courtside with Lakers teammate Rajon Rondo and others from his management team at Klutch Sports.
Bennett might not be right, by the way. Fifteen seasons into an NBA career, I'm not sure if James can now do what we see Williamson doing above. He once could, for sure. But even if he can't now, it's legend-building to know that the King was seated nearby when Duke ascended ever higher and Williamson, along with RJ Barrett, Tre Jones and Cam Reddish, combined for 74 points in Duke's most impressive win of the season.
"He texted me today that he might be here," Krzyzewski said of James' surprise showing. "He's welcome to come around any time."
Strong flex! But OK, Coach K. OK. (Let's not forget that James' son, Bronny, is already being discussed as a potential high priority target for Duke. Bronny's graduating class is 2023.)
While the Williamson play automatically vaults to the top of his already-stuffed NBA Draft highlight reel through 22 games as a Blue Devil, the big takeaway here has to be the 3-point display. Aberration or omen? The stunner about this game was how Virginia's top-ranked 3-point defense (24.7 percent entering Saturday) was incapable of holding a team that came into the night ranked 315th from deep, making only 30.8 percent of its treys.
"It's the best we've shot from the 3-point, and obviously, it's a huge difference," Krzyzewski said.
It's all the difference. It is the line of demarcation. Duke being a Final Four/national title contender vs. Duke being borderline unbeatable exists in the realm where the Blue Devils make more than 45 percent of their 3-pointers -- forget the 62 percent whiplash they lucked into Saturday evening.
Duke coaches could not have seen this coming, but there was an expectation that, at some point, the 3-point shot was going to start dropping for this group. Duke associate head coach Jon Scheyer told me before Saturday's game that the Blue Devils were a much better shooting team than they had showed most of the season, and that the team's issues from deep were sort of inexplicable. If that's true, what Duke did to Virginia in Charlottesville is even harder to explain.
How about this: Duke dropping 81 was the most points scored on Virginia at home since Tony Bennett became the coach of the Cavaliers in 2009.
Said Virginia guard Kyle Guy: "When they hit 13 3s, they are going to be hard to beat."
Hard? Let's just settle on impossible. Duke earned No. 1 overall seed status, officially, on Saturday when the selection committee revealed its annual in-season look at the top 16 seeds in college basketball. Duke's win was an emphatic reinforcement of that. Everyone is now on the chase -- Virginia included.
And no, let's not toss away the Cavaliers from Final Four or national title consideration just because their only two losses of the season have come at the hands of the most imposing squad in college basketball. Virginia could well be the second best team in college hoops. No team has shot as well overall as Duke (57.8 percent) on UVA since the start of the 2010-11 season. Keep that in mind as well. This was more Duke overachieving than Virginia coming up short. Ty Jerome, ever valuable as the starting point guard, played and played well -- but he admitted afterward that the medicine he needed to be fully capable in this one was starting to wear off and that he was spent.
It's funny how sometimes the prep and previews of these big games develop storylines, like how many thought Duke would try to dominate on the interior again. Didn't happen. Virginia had good lane presence, but that all went out the window early, once Duke hit its first five 3-pointers and the atmosphere inside John Paul Jones Arena became fuzzy.
"I don't think it's anything I did," Krzyzewski said of the performance and 3-point assault. "But my players felt it. I have good players. Maybe that little room, they took advantage of it without any kind of coaching. Really good players, sometimes they make coaches look pretty good and pretty smart."
The college basketball season has been building to a moment like this, something that feels definite, an outcome that gives us a team to put on another tier.
Saturday night was a crescendo to that. We now know the gap between Duke and whatever team you want to put second is big enough to fit a few Zions through. No disrespect to Tennessee, Gonzaga, UVA or anyone else. What we saw on Saturday night was Duke in full-power mode. If you've followed college basketball all season, you know it to be true: no one can match that.
The fun problem for Duke will now be: can the Blue Devils match it? Just because it did it once doesn't mean we're guaranteed to see it again, at least not to this extent. But from here until whenever Duke's season ends, we know the threat is there. The threat is the treat that will keep all of us intrigued.
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