The college basketball season started up last night and we had some quality basketball on display. The two marquee matchups of the night came in the State Farm Champions Classic, which saw Kansas (1) and Michigan State (10) face off while Duke (4) showed off their new toys against a revamped Kentucky (2) squad.
Kansas disposed of Michigan State by holding off their second half comeback efforts en route to a 92-87 final. Freshman stud Quentin Grimes was the catalyst for this win in his debut as he dropped 21 points and 4 assists on 7-14 from the floor and 6-10 from three on some high level marksmanship from deep. Memphis transfer and forward Dedric Lawson lived up to the hype with 20 points 14 rebounds and 6 assists in a very complete game for the junior. Bill Self has been on record saying he might be the best passer they’ve had in his coaching tenure there. This is some high praise and it was on display Tuesday night. Udoka Azubuike picked up where he left off from last year as he patrolled the paint as he’s done the past 2 years for Coach Bill Self. For Michigan State, after losing star forwards Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr to the NBA Draft, this wasn’t a bad step for a team looking for their identity. While most of this team is back there still will be a transition playing without their two clear stars from last year. Junior guard Cassius Winston had a cold night shooting (13 Points on 3-10 from the field) but doled out 11 dimes and looked to have control over the offense. They showed their fight in this one as they were down as much as 18 but they wouldn’t quit as they tightened things up to as close as 90-87 with 15 seconds left. They just ran out of time late as Kansas sealed it with some free throws.
While that game was fun, the real show came up next as Duke drubbed Kentucky 118-84 in a game that was never that close. By the end it seemed as though Duke was just testing out more ways they could embarrass the Wildcats. The trio of Zion Williamson (28 points 7 rebounds 11-13 FGs), R.J. Barrett (33 points 4 rebounds 6 assists), and Cam Reddish (22 points 3 rebounds 4 assists 3 steals) were unstoppable. I would usually have a lot of blame to put on Kentucky for this sort of an effort but I think Duke deserves all of the credit in the world. They overpowered Kentucky, plain and simple. The talent gap between the two teams showed last night and I feel as if this will become a trend every night the Blue Devils take the hardwood. Of course we thought they’d be great after being the first school ever to land the top-3 recruits in a single class but did we think they’d come out and utterly dominate Kentucky on night one? I for one, did not. Granted, Kentucky historically starts out slow and isn’t at their peak until March but it was still impressive. For the Wildcats, Freshman Phenom Keldon Johnson was exceptional potting 23 points as we saw the high ceiling for him as a scorer. Tyler Herro also was solid in his NCAA debut finishing with 14 points 9 rebounds 5 assists and 2 blocks. All in all, Kentucky fell flat on their faces on the defensive end and had absolutely no answers for Dukes potentially prolific offense.
With the start of the NCAA season upon us what better way is there to celebrate other than putting together a big board of the top-5 probable picks for the 2019 NBA Draft? For consistency purposes and taking into account how early we are into the NBA season I decided to just list a top-5 big board. Without further adieu, here’s your WAY-Too Early Top-5 for this coming summer’s NBA Draft.
- Quentin Grimes: Freshman, 6’ 5” 210 lb, Guard, Kansas
Plain and simple, this dude can score. His jumper is picturesque, he has the size to drive, and he’s not shy about it either. He played well last night in the opener and he should take hold as a leader for this Kansas team and someone they’ll look to lean on. His rebounding and high passing IQ give him the versatility NBA teams are actively searching for out of these young kids. I see his stock rising and should be around the 4-8 range once we get closer to draft day.
- Keldon Johnson: Freshman, 6’ 6” 211 lb, Guard, Kentucky
Flashy. That’s how I describe Keldon as his flair is one of the most polarizing parts of his game. He keeps below the rim a bit but from there he can contort his body in a slew of ways and just has a nose for putting the ball in the basket. He has the concentration and body control to change pace and twist around defenders on his way to the rim. He also (similar to Grimes) has a great jump-shot and it only will get better from here.
- Cam Reddish: Freshman, 6’ 8” 218 lb, Forward, Duke
This is where we begin to switch our focus from the rest of the NCAA strictly to Duke. Although he most certainly has been talked about the least out of Duke’s historic draft class Reddish is right there with his other two teammates and has as high an upside of anyone in this class. While his offense and shooting ability are his main strengths I see high potential on the defensive side of the ball. A daunting 7’ 1” wingspan on top of his height make him a prototypical wing defender in the NBA. He has active hands and a knack for being in the right spots. Switching is the wave nowadays and Reddish has shown his ability to guard bigs as in an AAU game in the past guarded not only the teams point guard, but Marvin Bagley III. This high offensive potential and even higher defensive potential will have GMs salivating for his services come draft night.
- Zion Williamson: Freshman, 6’ 7” 285 lb, Forward, Duke
Ever since the videos started to come out when he was at Spartanburg Day School dunking the ball and almost ripping the rim off Zion has been on the radar. There’s also been a ton of skepticism as many wondered if he actually had talent or if the competition he was playing in high school was enhancing his numbers a bit. I was one of these skeptics and already I’m starting to change my tune. He’s a problem and is going to be a problem. A huge problem (in a good way). The body of a defensive end who also has a 40+ inch vertical. That is a sentence that I should not be writing in real life because it’s mindboggling to think about. He showed out last night and even really impressed me with his ball handling as I was unsure about that aspect of his game. Tight crossovers and he had a couple of step-backs where he really got his defender off-balance. Expect him to be cemented around here at 2 for the foreseeable future
- R.J. Barrett: Freshman, 6’ 7” 202 lb, Forward, Duke
Ok please don’t yell at me. I know Zion looked like the best player ever last night but he’s still the second best prospect in this class (and ironically, his own team). This draft has been about R.J. Barrett, it continues to be about Barrett, and when it’s all set and done it will be about Barrett. He’s a stud and he had it all on display last night. He did everything and he showed his polished offensive game off for everyone to see. Strong drives, finishing ability, three-point potential, mid-range potential, all of it, he had it. What really got me was seeing how strong he really is. A multitude of times he’d finish a tough layup and you’d be wondering how did that go in? One of which he went up on the left side and got all of his airspace eaten up by Keldon Johnson. Just as he was about to hit the ground he willed it in off the glass for the deuce. He continued to go right at Kentucky’s defenders fearlessly and finish strong. He has a complete offensive portfolio and the body type for the current NBA. At this point, I would be shocked if he fell out of this spot, and if he does, I don’t see him going anywhere lower than 2nd in June.
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