LAS VEGAS --- Well college basketball fans, I'm really not quite sure how to tell you this.
So sit down, take a deep breath and take one last swig of whatever you've been drinking this holiday weekend. Because there's no real way to make this easy. But here goes:
Duke is the best team in college basketball. And all the Duke haters are going to have to deal with it.
Sure, that's just my opinion. But it's also kind of fact. After an 84-81win Friday night against Gonzaga in front of a record-setting crowd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, I don't know how anyone could come to any other conclusion.
First off, let's talk about T-Mobile Arena here for a second, because for all of college hoops' faults, this was one of those games and crowds that absolutely makes you remember why you love this sport so damn much.
Zags fans started rolling into town earlier this week for their two games against Bellarmine (know you might have missed that one) and their first showdown of the week against UCLA. Meanwhile, Duke fans started to pop up throughout the day on Thursday into Friday and by the time mid-day Friday rolled around, you couldn't roll the dice at a craps table without hitting a Duke or Gonzaga fan. An hour before tip-off the outside of T-Mobile Arena was a sea of people, and as the final minutes ticked down before tip-off you could just feel that this game was going to be different.
Trust me, I was in the building for Gonzaga-UCLA on Tuesday night, and with no disrespect intended, it was nothing like this.
So credit to the fans for showing up, setting a Nevada state record for attendance at a basketball game of 20,386 (kind of incredible when you think of all the great UNLV teams of the 1980's and 1990's).
And credit to the players on the court for delivering one of the best games of the college hoops seasons so far.
To its credit, Duke exerted its will early, clearly learning lessons that UCLA and Texas - a pair of two Top 5 teams themselves - couldn't learn. It was clear that on offense the goal was to push the ball right at Gonzaga, a team that loves to fast-break in their own right. And it was to get quick fouls on Gonzaga's two best players Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren, which is what they did, with each player missing significant time with foul trouble.
And it was clear that on defense, the goal was to lock in and let their size and length create problems for Gonzaga, just like it did for Kentucky in their season-opener earlier this season.
Which is exactly what they did. While you might look at the final score and Gonzaga's 81 points and assume "the Zags did whatever they wanted on offense" it was the exact opposite. The Blue Devils held a team that was shooting 36 percent from three coming into this game to just 6 of 21 shooting from behind the arc. They forced 17 turnovers against a team that came in averaging just 11.
So Duke was the aggressor and Duke picked up a win against what might just be the second-best team in the country. And here's the crazy part: They hardly played their best game on Friday night.
As weird as it sounds, think about everything that went wrong for the Blue Devils on Friday.
Paolo Banchero was awesome early - he played very much like a future No. 1 pick - before having to go to the locker room with cramps. He was more "bystander" than "contributor" in the second half. Trevor Keels, Duke's best scoring guard was held to 2 of 11 from the field. And Duke also missed 10 foul shots - TEN!
Yet when Banchero down and Keels struggled, it was junior Wendell Moore who stepped up with 20 points, including five free throws to seal the game late. And it was Williams who dominated the paint with 17 points and five blocks.
That's also why it's hard to argue that anyone other than Duke is the best team in college hoops.
Who else has two other guys who can step up and take over a game when the future No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft is out with cramps and their best guard is struggling? Who else has a front line that goes 7'1 with Williams and Banchero at 6'10 that can do everything from guard the perimeter to dominate the paint down low?
Heck, who else could've taken all those blows from Gonzaga on Friday night and still come out on top?
The answer really is no one.
Now admittedly, yes, things can change. This is college basketball and teams ebb and flow, and peak in November only to be forgotten by the end of the season. Not to mention that in a one-game, single elimination tournament, anyone can lose on any given night. The best team doesn't always win, and there's obviously no way to even know, let alone guarantee that Duke will be the best team by the end of the season.
But, today isn't April 5th, it's November 26th. And we can only talk and react to what we know right now.
And what we know is that the best team in college basketball is the Duke Blue Devils.
And we're all going to have to deal with it.
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