NEW YORK -- It's basically unfair what Duke is cresting toward -- elegant dominance -- at the moment.
Luke Kennard, maybe the frontrunner for national player of the year, is playing himself into the conversation of being a 2017 first-round draft pick. Amile Jefferson is also legitimately a top-10 national player of the year candidate, and that's something no one in the galaxy could have predicted.
Plenty of people are buzzing about Kennard's game-high 29 points and/or Jefferson's 24 points, 15 boards and four blocks in Duke's 84-74 win against Florida at MSG on Tuesday night. As they should be.
"I thought Amile Jefferson was amazing -- absolutely amazing -- the way he anchored their defense," Florida coach Mike White said.
But here's where it gets out of hand. Did you see Jayson Tatum? It was just the second game of the freshman power wing's college career, and he went for 22 points in 29 minutes, adding eight boards, two assists, two steals and a block. Looked like a future 15-year pro, the kind of player who's going to seamlessly adapt to the NBA game.
And he told me he felt winded and fatigued while doing it. Tatum's foot injury set back some of his conditioning, so while he's fully healthy, he's not yet in peak physical condition.
"When he has the ball in his hands, you know something good is most likely going to happen," Kennard told CBS Sports Tuesday night. "He's a different player just because of the way he carries himself, the way he handles himself on the court. His attitude, his confidence, his cockiness. He has that swagger -- whatever you want to call it. It's good to see him be back to himself tonight."
See, this is where Duke gets scary. The Blue Devils provided us an incomplete -- and yet still dominant -- picture of what's to come this season, should injuries stop plaguing this team altogether. Duke was the consensus No. 1 team entering the season. But after Frank Mason III hit a near-buzzer-beater three weeks ago, right here at Madison Square Garden, to lift Kansas past Duke, the Blue Devils dropped in the polls. Then Kentucky came roaring along, and now Villanova's the new No. 1 team. Amid all that, Indiana, North Carolina, UCLA and Baylor continued to rack up big-time wins and earn national attention.
Duke has been getting its fair share, too, but I think the perspective on just how outright dominant this team can be was lost. Until we saw what happened Tuesday night. Bless Mike White, whose Florida team entered the game ranked No. 9 overall in defensive efficiency ... only to be outscored 75-74 by three of Duke's players (Kennard, Jefferson and Tatum).
You've got Grayson Allen struggling (due in good part to a nagging toe injury). Harry Giles (back by Christmas?) hasn't played a game yet. Matt Jones, Chase Jeter and Marques Bolden were non-factors. But Duke had three dudes throw up 75 points and beat a team all by themselves. That's probably not happening again this season, unless Duke decides to do it again, I guess?
"We have a lot of guys willing to share that ball, and that's really fun to play with," Kennard said.
This is what fun looks like. Look at this ball movement. Surgical yet free-flowing.
The entire Duke possession was so good I'm now drunk https://t.co/5F1Z6fwWEV— Troy Machir (@TroyMachir) December 7, 2016
Tatum's coming-out party was the biggest box of news for Duke on Tuesday. He's only getting adjusted to the speed and competition of Division I basketball, and he's adapting quickly.
"Definitely a learning curve," Tatum told CBS Sports. "I think it's just, at first, I've gotta get adjusted to it in the first 10, 15 minutes. In the second half I felt a lot better. I really wasn't concerned about myself, and that's what I've got to work on. Not being fatigued in the first half and just getting rebounds and stops."
The competition is becoming so good and the teams are looking so strong in the top 15 or so of the polls, I refuse to say Duke will definitively separate itself. But if this was Duke on a B or even B-plus level, then things are about to get really ridiculous soon. Krzyzewski is hoping Giles can make his return by Christmas. Tatum's probably going to be caught up to his learning curve by then. A lazy sports cliche is when we discuss the "immeasurable" impact of players.
No, the dimensions Tatum brings are definably and aesthetically elite. He has size, quickness, savvy, a strong body, good length, terrific touch and the occasional blast of aggressiveness in going to the hole. All of those things were on display on Tuesday night. Kennard's leading this team in scoring and is the leading Duke candidate for POY honors. Jefferson's the veteran rock, a player who's also proving to be a force.
But Tatum's tantalizing performance is what should have Duke fans most excited and Duke opponents most scared.
"It's close," Kennard told me when I asked if the team was in sight of its ceiling. "The way these guys are coming back, it's another step for us. When Harry's back, it'll be another step for us. Jayson and Marques, they're back now, and they are just learning who we are as a group. They're fitting in really, really well. It's made us a little bit better."
You know, I asked Mike White about his team's overall defensive performance. There's a bittersweet takeaway in stopping Duke in every facet except for the Kennard/Jefferson/Tatum trio beating them on their own 75-74. White said Florida did a lot of the right things. Forced tough 2s, made Duke score off the bounce.
"It didn't really matter," he said. "They're incredible with their ability to create their own shots. When Amile is playing that well, when you've got a guy like Amile who's got it going like that offensively, I just think it takes a lot of pressure off those other guys."
We're quickly approaching a reality where checking this team will be impossible. There are too many options on offense to hope the group on the whole has a bad night. They'll still lose some games, especially with the talent in the ACC and many road tilts awaiting, but Tatum confirmed on Tuesday what many expected to be the case before we ever saw this team play a game: From a talent standpoint, there isn't a college basketball team more well-rounded and assorted than Duke.
If you still want to doubt that and bring up Kentucky or Kansas, that's fine. Once Giles is on the floor, the debate is officially over.