Duke is going to be good. Really good. Every college basketball “expert” in the country has them as their number one team, and this is not without merit. As a Carolina fan I usually hate when Duke is good, but this year I do not feel that way. I am not mad, because this year, I know Carolina is better.
Nobody in the country may agree with me, and that is fine. Preseason rankings mean nothing, and just because analysts say that Duke is the best team, does not make Duke the best team. The reason I am not ready to anoint them as the kings of the college basketball universe is twofold.
1) I hate them
2) They are presumably starting three Freshman, and possibly a fourth.
This has worked for Coach K before, so there is little reason to doubt him. When Duke won in 2015, their core was comprised of three Freshman. Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Tyus Jones pulled together wonderfully and led Duke to a national title. In the one and done era, only twice has a team relying heavily on Freshman won a National Championship. That Duke team, and Kentucky in 2012 who did not have to play Carolina because of a Kendall Marshall broken wrist (that one still stings).
There are far more examples of a team comprised of Freshman not living up to standards. Last year, Kentucky was tied with North Carolina atop the preseason rankings. That same Kentucky team ended up as a four seed in the tournament and was bounced in the round of 32. The same thing happened to LSU last year who had Ben Simmons and Antonio Blakeney. They did not even make the tournament. In 2013, Kentucky was ranked number 3 in the preseason, and did not make the NCAA tournament. There are countless other examples of teams heavily depending on Freshman not living up to expectations, so the thought is not an irrational one.
In no way do I think Duke will end up like any of the aforementioned teams. They are way too talented and do have some solid leadership returning. What I do believe is that Carolina will be a better and more polished team than the Blue Devils. North Carolina, like Duke, will have a starting lineup completely comprised of McDonald’s All Americans. The difference is, North Carolina’s talent all has ample experience playing on the highest stage of college basketball. The Tar Heels return 3 starters, Joel Berry, Justin Jackson, and Kennedy Meeks. The two presumed new starters are Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson who were the two most important pieces off of the 2016 national runner-up’s bench. This gives Carolina a starting 5 that has played together for the past two years and is extremely talented.
Experienced talent is better than unexperienced talent. This was shown last year in the final 4 when all of the teams boasted veteran lineups. Okahoma, Villanova, Syracuse, and North Carolina all had senior led teams that also happened to be talented. It was a refreshing change in college basketball after one and done teams had seemed to dominate the talk for the past couple of seasons. This is why I am confident North Carolina will be better than Duke this year.
Nobody knows how the star-studded Duke Freshman class of Harry Giles, Jason Tatum, Frank Jackson, and Marques Bolden will turn out. Duke knows what they will get out of Grayson Allen, but will there be enough shots to go around with everyone wanting to be the big man on campus and boost their draft stock? This is why there are always questions around one and done teams. Nobody knows how they will actually play out.
It is pretty well known what is going to come out of the Carolina team. It is going to look very similar to last years team, and there are no discussions about possible riffs in team chemistry or worries about how the team will mesh together. This is an experienced team who knows exactly how Roy Williams wants them to play. If anyone questioned Roy Williams’ coaching, he shut them up last year. The man can coach, plan and simple.
Both North Carolina and Duke will have great basketball seasons. It should be another exciting year of basketball in North Carolina. College basketball runs through tobacco road, but expect the team in a lighter shade of blue to have the more successful season.