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Bold Predictions: 12 things that are guaranteed to happen this season

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A new basketball season is upon us, and with that in mind, it is time for us to start making predictions that we are going to regret.

Below, you will find 12 bold predictions that are all guaranteed to happen.

Try and tell us where we’re wrong? You can’t.



VIRGINIA WILL MAKE THE FINAL FOUR

Virginia is Villanova circa November of 2015. The Wildcats at that point in time were a powerhouse in the Big East, having coasted to back-to-back Big East titles before getting dumped in the NCAA tournament during the first weekend. No one thought Villanova was good enough to be a national title team, not with the way that they relied on developing four-year players in the era of one-and-done superstars. Then lo-and-behold, it turns out that those four-year stars actually were NBA players and that it was the randomness of a lose-and-go-home tournament combined with an ill-timed off-night that was the cause of Villanova’s postseason struggles.

Does that sound like the Wahoos to you?

Virginia is coming off of their third ACC regular season title in the last five years. They’ve consistently churned out NBA role players and have two or three more on their roster this season, including a potential lottery pick in De’Andre Hunter. Their tournament losses have been fluky … ish; UMBC whooped their behinds. This is the year UVA gets it done. (Rob Dauster)

GONZAGA WILL WIN THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

Sure, it’s probably not all that bold to declare that a consensus top-five team will win the national title, but Gonzaga seems to be the team that so many people love to not believe in, even after their title game appearance in 2017. The Bulldogs have been knocking on the door for years now, and they’ve got a talented and experienced roster that, to my mind, is built to win at the absolute highest level. Unless they get through their non-conference schedule undefeated, we probably won’t talk that much about them in January and February, but Gonzaga is the best team in the country. They’re cutting nets in Minneapolis. (Travis Hines)

BOL BOL BECOMES THE NATION’S MUST-SEE FRESHMAN

Watching freshman stars has become an annual tradition in college basketball. Since the sport is often dominated by newcomers, who double as the best NBA prospects, it creates a natural curiosity for both hardcore college hoops fans, and casual sports watchers.

Duke’s freshman class is going to draw the majority of the freshmen headlines this season with its star-studded group composed of R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones. It’s one of the most talented recruiting classes of all-time — and I’ve argued the most famous of any incoming recruiting class.

Bol Bol (by Jon Lopez, Nike)

But Oregon center Bol Bol is going to be the freshman that draws the most interest from fans outside of the Duke group. Bol checks two key boxes when it comes to sensationalized national interest: he’s the son of a former NBA player and he possesses a freakish skill level (especially for someone his size). The son of Manute Bol — the tallest player in NBA history — the younger Bol checks in at only 7-foot-3. But Bol has a beautiful perimeter jumper that helps him stretch the floor out to NBA range. In fact, he could be one of the best three-point shooters in the country this season. Bol was 26-for-59 (44 percent) from three-point range in 19 Nike EYBL games his final grassroots season.

Between the blocked shots at the rim, and the ridiculous perimeter shots Bol can make with a defender on him, he’s going to be a ton of fun to watch this season in an otherwise underwhelming Pac-12.

FLORIDA IS THE TEAM RANKED OUTSIDE THE TOP 25 THAT GOES TO THE FINAL FOUR

There are some good possibilities from which to choose, with Marquette, Indiana and last season’s darlings Loyola-Chicago just missing out. But here’s a team to keep an eye on: Florida. The Gators did lose Chris Chiozza and Egor Koulechov from last year’s squad, but KeVaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson both return as do front court contributors Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone. Also there’s that talented freshman class, led by point guard Andrew Nembhard and off-guard Keyontae Johnson. The Gators may endure some growing pains as Nembhard adjusts to the college level, especially in an SEC that should be really good. But this could very well be a team that, once it gets out of league play and into the NCAA tournament, winds up going on a deep run. (Raphielle Johnson)

TYLER HERRO WILL BE KENTUCKY’S LEADING SCORER

I’ve made this point over and over again during the offseason: Kentucky has a lot of really good basketball players and prospects on their roster, but if there is something they are lacking it is a go-to guy. I’m not convinced P.J. Washington is ready for that role. It’s hard to run offense through a barrel-chested low-post scorer like Reid Travis. Quade Green isn’t the guy, and I’m not ready to say Ashton Hagans or Immanuel Quickley is, either. Keldon Johnson is at his best in a complimentary role.

Enter Herro, a four-star recruit from Wisconsin that is definitively the best shooter on the team. He led the program in scoring during their trip to the Bahamas, and he did so while playing the role in Kentucky’s offense that was played by Jamal Murray, Malik Monk and Kevin Knox before him. It’s not a coincidence his last name is pronounced ‘hero’. (Rob Dauster)

Tyler Herro; Chet White/UK Athletics

NEVADA WILL BE A STAPLE OF HOOPS AFTER DARK AND A #CBBTWITTER DARLING

I’m really high on Eric Musselman’s team. The Wolf Pack’s offense is going to be awesome — they’ve got the preseason top spot in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings — with a group of mostly transfers with something to prove after last season’s run. There are nine scholarship players in their 4th or 5th season in college. Eight of those nine averaged double-figure points the last season they played, either at Nevada or at their previous school. The one who didn’t started at PG last season. And then there’s Jordan Brown, their McDonald’s All-American center.

Plus, it’s west coast hoops, which mean those of us east of the Rockies are going to have super entertaining basketball to watch late at night, which ups the cool factor significantly, in my opinion. I’m all-in on watching Nevada roll all season long. (Travis Hines)

SEC BASKETBALL RETURNS TO BRAZEN MEDIOCRITY

Last year was memorable for SEC basketball. While the league has been inconsistent outside of Kentucky and Florida over the past decade, the rest of the conference stepped up in a major way last season. A record eight SEC teams made the NCAA tournament as the league was one of the toughest top-to-bottom basketball conferences in the country. Instead of another dominant John Calipari-led Kentucky team, the Wildcats faltered enough where Auburn and Tennessee tied atop the regular-season standings.

That likely won’t be the case again this season.

Kentucky has a loaded roster that once again makes them the favorites. Auburn and Tennessee bring back a lot of last season’s rosters — but they’ll also be the hunted now instead of the surprising upstarts. And the rest of the league has been gutted with big losses and injuries. Collin Sexton is gone from Alabama. Missouri has to continue without Michael (NBA) or Jontay Porter (injury). Arkansas and Texas A&M suffered significant roster turnover. The SEC still has a chance to have a significant presence in the NCAA tournament once again. But everything would have to go right with young teams like Vanderbilt and LSU stepping up. I just don’t see eight NCAA tournament bids happening again.

BY FEBRUARY, PROVIDENCE’S ALPHA DIALLO WILL BE LEADING THE BIG EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR RACE

There are some really good preseason candidates, with St. John’s guard Shamorie Ponds being the preseason pick and players such as Villanova’s Eric Paschall and Marquette’s Markus Howard meriting serious discussion as well. But here’s a name that may not be discussed enough: Alpha Diallo, a 6-foot-7 guard who last season was one of the Big East’s most improved players. After averaging 5.7 points and 3.2 rebounds in just over 21 minutes per game as a freshman, Diallo averaged 13.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists in just over 30 minutes per game last season. Look for him to take a significant step forward in 2018-19, with the addition of some talented freshmen and the return of Emmitt Holt helping Diallo lead a team that’s expected to contend in the Big East. (Raphielle Johnson)

MARQUETTE FINISHES NO WORSE THAT SECOND IN THE BIG EAST AND MAKES THE FINAL FOUR

Anyone that reads this space knows how I feel about Marquette this season. They are a team with unlimited potential on the offensive end of the floor — if Markus Howard isn’t the best shooter in the Big East, Sam Hauser is — that couldn’t defend the men’s league team that I play on last season. Well, it just so happens that Steve Wojciechowski brought in two transfers that should help solve some of their defensive problems in Joseph Chartouny and Ed Morrow. Chartouny provides the added bonus of being precisely the kind of point guard that will be able to get Markus Howard off the ball, where he is more effective.

Marquette is one of my favorite picks to win the national title. I may or may not already have some money invested in their eventual march in March. This isn’t even a bold take for me. It’s lukewarm. (Rob Dauster)

Markus Howard (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

WE’RE NOT EVEN CLOSE TO THE END OF THE DRAMA FROM THE FBI INVESTIGATION

The three guilty verdicts last month in the federal government’s case of college basketball corruption didn’t resonate too much, but I just can’t help but feel like there is more here. Whether it’s cooperation or more evidence — i.e. wiretaps, or the fallout from another trial — that come to light, I think we’re going to see something significant that will make the sport rumble. (Travis Hines)

BUFFALO TURNS INTO THE MID-MAJOR DARLING OF THIS SEASON

Everyone is searching for the new Loyola. After the Ramblers made a shocking run to the Final Four out of the Missouri Valley Conference last season, everyone seems to believe that another mid-major will rise and compete with the big boys once again.

A Final Four run for a mid-major isn’t a likely feat. But if I were to bet on one mid-major team having a chance, it would be Buffalo out of the MAC.

Making a national statement with a blowout win over Arizona in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season, the Bulls return most of their core group. The senior trio of guard CJ Massinburg, wing Jeremy Harris and big man Nick Perkins is back. All three could be all-league players.

Replacing point guard Wes Clark will be the major question mark for the Bulls. Thankfully for Buffalo, the roster is restocked with a recruiting class that rivals many high-major programs. Shooting guard JeeNathan Williams is a legitimate consensus four-star prospect while point guard Ronald Segu received plenty of national praise. And Buffalo has a lot of chances to pick off the big boys with its stacked non-conference schedule. Don’t be surprised if Buffalo earns some big early-season wins and vaults itself into the bubble conversation.

SAINT JOSEPH’S WILL WIN AT LEAST ONE NCAA TOURNAMENT GAME

Given the fact that Saint Joseph’s lost its top two scorers from a season ago in Shavar Newkirk and James Demery, this certainly qualifies as a bold prediction. While those are two key personnel losses for the Hawks, both Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble and Charlie Brown Jr. are back after missing all of last season due to injury. In 2016-17 Kimble and Brown combined to average 28.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game, with Kimble also dishing out 4.5 assists per game. Add those two to three returning starters, and Phil Martelli’s team is considered to be a contender in the Atlantic 10 for good reason. Among the other returnees is sophomore forward Taylor Funk, who was one of the A-10’s best newcomers last season. So I’m going “all in” on Saint Joseph’s…and with just two seniors on the roster the Hawks could be even better in 2019-20. (Raphielle Johnson)

Saturday’s Things To Know: Four top ten teams go down

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PLAYER OF THE DAY: Ethan Happ, Wisconsin

Considering all of the context surrounding this game — Wisconsin having lost four of their last five, Michigan entering the day undefeated, the Badgers’ struggles on the offensive end of the floor, the tenacity with which the Wolverines defend — the performance the we got out of Ethan Happ on Saturday afternoon in the Kohl Center was one of the best individual performances of the year.

Happ finished with 26 points, 10 boards, seven assists and two steals against No. 2 Michigan, one of the nation’s top five defenses, to lead the Badgers to a 64-54 win that moved them to 4-3 in the Big Ten and ended Michigan’s best start to a season in program history. All told, Happ was responsible for 43 of Wisconsin’s 64 points, a fact made even more impressive by the presence of Jon Teske, who has morphed into one of the best defensive big men in the country.

This wasn’t a must-win game for Wisconsin — those don’t exist in January — but it was a ‘prove it’ game.

And Wisconsin did just that.

Thanks to Ethan Happ.

TEAM OF THE DAY: Baylor Bears

Freshman Jared Butler scored 14 of his 19 points in the second half to lead Baylor to an upset home win over No. 8 Texas Tech on Saturday evening. Butler also might have hit the biggest shot of the game, burying a three with 4:30 left in the game after Tech has reeled off an 11-0 run to cut the lead to two points. On the next Baylor possession, he finished a three-point play, and the Bears would go on to win 73-62.

This win is so important for Baylor because it not only adds a marquee win to their tournament resume, but it keeps them in the race for the Big 12 title.

Seriously.

Baylor isn’t in a tie for first right now, but that’s only because they haven’t played as many games as the four teams that are currently tied for first in the league. They are, however, tied in the loss column, and a win at last place West Virginia on Monday would get them there.

Should I mention West Virginia just beat Kansas?

ONIONS OF THE DAY: Tyler Herro, Kentucky

Tyler Herro was the star for Kentucky in their biggest win of the season.

The No. 12 Wildcats went into Auburn Arena and knocked off No. 14 Auburn, 82-80, to keep pace at the top of the SEC standings, and Herro was the reason why. He scored 10 of his team-high 20 points in the final 5:23, including a pair of free throws in the final minute to give Kentucky a lead they would never relinquish.

SATURDAY’S BIGGEST WINNERS

DUKE: I’ve written plenty on Duke’s win over Virginia. Read it all here.

BIG 12 PARITY: Goooooooood luck trying to figure the Big 12 out this year.

As of today, there are four teams in the league that are tied in first place with a 4-2 record in the league — Kansas, Kansas State, Texas Tech and Iowa State. That doesn’t include Baylor, who beat the Red Raiders on Saturday to move to 3-2 in Big 12 play, or Texas, who knocked off Oklahoma to get to 3-3 on the year in league play. TCU, who is in seventh place in the conference race, is just one game out of first in the loss column while Oklahoma, who is ranked 20th in the AP Poll, is sitting in a tie for eighth.

Should I mention that West Virginia — the team in last place in the league — beat the eventual league champs* Kansas today?

*We all know it’s happening. 

WEST VIRGINIA: You heard that right. West Virginia, who entered Saturday with an 0-5 mark in Big 12 play and have played the entirety of the league schedule to date without Sagaba Konate, knocked off No. 7 Kansas in Morgantown for the fourth time in the last five years. In the process, West Virginia exposed the fatal flaw in this Kansas program.

JA MORANT TRACKER: The Murray State superstar and future top five pick finished with 10 points and 10 assists in a win over SIU-Edwardsville. There are some real concerns about his shooting stroke moving forward, but it’s worth noting here: Morant was 21-for-21 from the free throw line. Sources say that’s pretty good.

SATURDAY’S BIGGEST LOSERS

TOP TEN TEAMS: Four of them lost today. Three of those four — No. 2 Michigan, No. 7 Kansas and No. 8 Texas Tech — lost on the road to unranked teams in league play. The fourth — No. 4 Virginia — lost on the road in league play as well, only they fell to … No. 1 Duke. That’ll happen.

UNDEFEATED TEAMS: Entering the day, there were two of them.

As of this very moment, there are none. Of the ten biggest leagues in the sport, only Michigan State, Tennessee, LSU, Villanova, Washington, Gonzaga and Saint Louis are still unbeaten in league play.

AAC OFFICIALS: Gregg Marshall, after getting ejected from a home game against Cincinnati, told reporters afterwards that, “I felt like the road team today.” This was the third time this week that an AAC officiating crew was in the headlines. On Thursday night, Tulsa coach Frank Haith and UConn coach Dan Hurley were both ejected at the same time after being given two technical fouls apiece for this dust-up. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin was also ejected earlier in the week.

It’s worth noting here — two of the officials that tossed Haith and Hurley (Pat Adams and Marques Pettigrew) also tossed Marshall.

SEC TEAMS IN ALABAMA: No. 14 Auburn did not have a good day. They dug themselves a 16 point second half hole against No. 12 Kentucky, came roaring back thanks to 25 second half points from Bryce Brown and then lost in the final seconds because a game-winning bucket from Jared Harper happened to roll off the rim. Brutal.

But Alabama might have had it worse. They had so many chances to put No. 3 Tennessee away in the final minutes, but they couldn’t run offense. They had a chance to win with 11 seconds left, but John Petty traveled. It was not ideal.

FINAL THOUGHT

No. 25 Indiana was embarrassed on Saturday.

They lost to rival Purdue 70-55, but it wasn’t the scoreline that really is the indicator here. It was Romeo Langford, who managed just four points in 22 minutes, getting bench with 3:19 remaining because Indiana was, frankly, better without him. His plus-minus was -16, meaning that Indiana actually outscored Purdue in the 18 minutes that Langford was glued to the pine.

It was the fact that the Hoosiers were once again beaten up in a game that they badly needed to win. This was their fourth straight loss. On Monday, they were beaten by 15 points at home against Nebraska.

And look, it should not be all that surprising that Indiana is working through some growing pains here. This is a young team with a freshmen backcourt and a roster that has dealt with some injury issues. They aren’t all that talented, and they don’t shoot it all that well, and, if we’re going to call a spade a spade, they have not gotten the best that Archie Miller has to offer has a head coach yet.

I think Archie would probably tell you that.

And I think he would also tell you that he’s about to learn, first-hand, just how much pressure there is being the coach of a program like Indiana.

Because the fans are not happy about this losing streak, not when one of their own, the one-and-done lottery pick that is supposed to lead Indiana to the promised, is seeing his only season go to waste. Now the media is starting to pile on. Look at the biggest names covering the team. Gregg Doyel ripped them. Dan Dakich (continues) to rip them. Rick Bozich ripped them. I’m sure there are more that I just haven’t noticed yet.

And it’s not going to stop there.

The Colts are out of the playoffs. The Pacers aren’t going to be winning any titles this year. College basketball is going to drive any and all conversation, and the Hoosiers getting humiliated by their in-state rival is all anyone is going to want to talk about.

It’s not easy being the coach of a blueblood.

There’s a reason that someone like Shaka Smart prioritized Texas and Billy Donovan loved it at Florida. It’s nice when the money is there and the pressure only comes after the football team plays a bowl game and before spring practices start.

That’s certainly not the case at Indiana.

And Archie is going to learn that the hard way this week.

RJ Barrett leads No. 1 Duke past No. 4 Virginia 72-70

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DURHAM, N.C. — No. 1 Duke and fourth-ranked Virginia kept trading baskets — and the lead — down the stretch of another classic at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Here’s the difference: The Blue Devils had RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson and a defense that -even without key on-the-ball defender Tre Jones- flipped the script on the Cavaliers.

Barrett scored 30 points, Williamson had 27 and Duke gave Virginia its first loss of the season by beating the Cavaliers 72-70 on Saturday night.

“We did a lot of switching tonight, and we were able to move their defense enough — just enough, not every time — to get some driving lanes,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

The Blue Devils (15-2, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) bounced back from an overtime loss to Syracuse that could cost them their top ranking. They avoided their first two-game losing streak at home since 2016 and proved they can win without Jones.

DeAndre Hunter scored 18 points, and Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy had 14 apiece for the Cavaliers (16-1, 4-1), who entered as the nation’s last unbeaten after No. 2 Michigan was upset at Wisconsin earlier in the day. Virginia allowed Duke to shoot 63 percent in the second half — and hit 12 of 15 shots inside the 3-point arc — while giving up a season-high point total.

“We’re a solid defensive team,” coach Tony Bennett said, “but tonight, we were not solid enough.”

The fourth matchup of top-ranked teams in the sport’s history — Virginia entered at No. 1 in the coaches’ poll — was a tournament-caliber game throughout. There were 14 ties and 15 lead changes, and it was a one-possession game for a 14 1/2-minute stretch of the second half.

“If you scored, you beat good defense,” Krzyzewski said. “If you didn’t score, good defense beat you.”

After the Cavaliers missed 11 of 12 shots during a late nine-minute stretch, they pulled within 69-66 on Guy’s 3-pointer with 23 seconds left. Barrett hit two free throws with 20.9 seconds to play, and Virginia let too much time elapse before Braxton Key was fouled with 8.9 seconds remaining and hit both shots to make it 71-68.

Cameron Reddish hit a free throw to make it a four-point game before Hunter hit a jumper before the buzzer for Virginia.

BIG PICTURE

Virginia: The Cavaliers’ best start since opening 19-0 in 2014-15 is history, and they won’t wind up at No. 1 in the AP Top 25 on Monday. After winning a top-five matchup here last year, untimely cold shooting down the stretch — and their struggles to keep the Blue Devils from getting to the rim on defense — led to their first defeat. But circle the date on the calendar: The rematch in Charlottesville comes on Feb. 9.

“That was our game,” Jerome said. “We had that game. We lost it. We made mistakes that we can control.”

Duke: With one key freshman out — Jones — the Blue Devils rode the three other members of their freshman class to a significant victory. Williamson, Barrett and Reddish combined to take 47 of Duke’s 51 shots and score 66 of their 72 points.

“Coach K gives us the freedom to be us,” Williamson said. “When there’s movement for the three of us, no telling what we can do.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Good luck to the voters who have to sort this out. It’s hard to punish the Cavaliers too much for losing at Cameron. The question surrounding the Blue Devils: Will the spoils of this victory weigh more than their overtime loss to Syracuse when they were down two starters?

STRATEGY

Bennett said Duke was the first team to switch on every screen set by the Cavaliers — a tweak to the game plan Krzyzewski said he made a couple of days before the game in an attempt to limit Virginia’s open 3-pointers, especially the catch-and-shoot 3s that are an integral part of Guy’s game. He compared Guy to former Duke star J.J. Redick, calling him “the closest that I’ve seen to J.J. in the league.” Guy was 2 of 7 from 3-point range, and Virginia finished 3 of 17 from beyond the arc.

INJURY REPORT

This was the Blue Devils’ first full game without Jones, who separated the AC joint in his right shoulder early on against Syracuse. Jones watched from the bench in a polo shirt but without a sling. Duke had just six assists on 26 baskets after averaging 18 assists in its previous 16 games. Krzyzewski said there’s still no timetable for Jones’ return.

Baylor wins 73-62 to hand No. 8 Texas Tech 2nd loss in row

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WACO, Texas — Baylor freshman Jared Butler scored 14 of his 19 points after halftime and the Bears beat No. 8 Texas Tech 73-62 on Saturday, handing the Red Raiders their second loss in four days.

After Texas Tech scored 11 in a row to get within a basket, Butler hit a 3-pointer with 4 1/2 minutes left before Tech’s Jarrett Culver then had a short shot roll off the rim no good. That led to Butler driving for a layup and making the free throw after getting fouled to stretch the lead back to 61-53.

The Red Raiders (15-3, 4-2 Big 12), coming off a home loss to Iowa State on Wednesday night, are still tied for the Big 12 lead after No. 7 Kansas lost earlier Saturday at West Virginia.

Makai Mason added 16 points for Baylor (11-6, 3-2), which beat a Top 10 team for the seventh time in the last three seasons. The Bears are 7-7 in such games during that span.

Culver led the Red Raiders with 19 points and nine rebounds. Brandone Francis had 14 points and Davide Moretti had 13.

After Texas Tech raced out to a 23-10 lead in the first 9 1/2 minutes, Baylor went ahead to stay with a 23-6 run. Four Bears, including Butler, made 3-pointers in that span while the Red Raiders went more than 10 1/2 minutes without making a field goal.

Baylor had a 33-31 halftime lead before Butler scored the first eight points for the Bears out of the break. It was 41-33 after King McClure stole the ball from Culver and passed ahead to Butler for a breakaway layup.

BIG PICTURE

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders had been the only Big 12 team without a conference loss before this week, and their only loss before that was against No. 1 Duke.

Baylor: This was the most lopsided Big 12 game so far for the Bears, whose first five conference games had all been decided by five points or less. Baylor also won at home against Texas Tech last season when the Red Raiders were a Top 10 team.

UP NEXT

Texas Tech plays on the road for the third time in four games Tuesday night at Kansas State. The Red Raiders play three of their four games after that at home.

Baylor plays Monday night at West Virginia, which is coming off its win over Kansas after a 31-point loss at TCU. It’s the second week in a row the Bears follow a Saturday home game with a Monday road game.

Four takeaways from No. 1 Duke’s win over No. 4 Virginia

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R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson combined to score 57 points as No. 1 Duke survived an off-night from Cam Reddish to take down No. 4 Virginia, the last remaining unbeaten in college basketball, 72-70.

De’Andre Hunter led Virginia with 18 points while Ty Jerome finished with 14 points, four assists and four boards, the majority of his damage being done in the second half. Duke led 37-32 heading into halftime, cut the lead to 40-39 by the first TV timeout. From that point until the Blue Devils used a 6-0 run to push their lead out to 67-60, the game was a thrilling, one possession battle between two of the best teams in the country.

For me, that was the most important factor on display.

These could very well be the two best teams in college basketball. On a different day — one where Kyle Guy or Braxton Key makes one or two of the handful of wide open threes they had in the second half — Virginia wins this game. At the same time, we can say that if Tre Jones is healthy for the return leg, Duke could go into John Paul Jones Arena and get a win and no one would be surprised.

Speaking of Jones, much was made of the importance of his absence in the buildup to this game, but Duke still managed to find a way to win.

Here are four things to takeaway from the result:

1. ZION WILLIAMSON IS SPECIAL

Breaking news!

The likely No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and the probably National Player of the Year is a great basketball player.

Shocking, right?

But in all seriousness, he was absolutely unstoppable on Saturday night in Cameron. There is no team in the country that is better than Virginia when it comes to stopping dribble penetration — that is the entire point of the Pack-Line — and Zion was able to get to the rim more or less at will. Virginia tried everything to slow him down, from using future top ten pick De’Andre Hunter, to Mamadi Diakite, to Braxton Key. By the end of the second half, Tony Bennett put Jack Salt on Zion, hoping that it would be more effective using the burly, 7-foot New Zealander to keep Zion from bullying his way to the basket while helping as much as possible.

(I know this is probably a different conversation for a different space, but in all seriousness, Virginia’s entire premise defensively is to force drivers to play with as little space as possible, and Zion got wherever he wanted. In the NBA — with the longer three-point line, shooters all over the floor and more space than anyone knows what to do with — how do you keep him out of the lane?)

With the loss to Syracuse on Monday night, Duke is going to fall out of the top spot in the AP Poll. That’s justified.

But it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that a team with Zion Williamson as the second-option offensively is not the best team in college basketball.

2. THE CHESS MATCH BETWEEN THESE TWO COACHES WAS AMAZING, BUT COACH K WON THIS ROUND

It was fascinating to watch these two coaching geniuses trade haymakers for 40 minutes on Saturday night.

Coach K landed the first blow. Virginia runs the blocker-mover offense, which is more-or-less a continuity offense where three guards (movers) are constantly running off of screens from the two bigs (blockers), and he was able to completely take UVA out of their offense by switching all exchanges, 1-through-5. Tony Bennett said at halftime that no one had done that against them before. Switching off-ball screening actions minimizes their effectiveness, especially when the bigs aren’t good enough to overpower the guards that are switched onto them:

This through Virginia for a loop early on, but they adjusted. This is when Bennett gets on the scorecard for the first time, because he totally scrapped his offense and started doing exactly what Duke does: He ran screen after screen after screen until he got the matchup he wanted — usually, Marques Bolden on Ty Jerome or De’Andre Hunter. Then he would lift the defense, send the big out to set a ball-screen and let the dribbler attack the space in the paint since Duke wasn’t leaving shooters:

Duke’s response?

They switched to a 2-3 zone for a number of possessions late in the second half, and it got Duke the win, but I do think that it’s important to note than Virginia entered this game as the nation’s seventh-best three-point shooting team and they missed three or four really good looks from three against that Duke zone. If those threes — the shots that Virginia wanted to get, mind you — go down, maybe I’m writing something different here.

They didn’t.

And Duke was able to land themselves the two-point win.

(One point that I think is important to add here: One of the things that people love to cite when they say that Tony Bennett will never be able to coach in the NBA is the offense that he runs. Well, in the second half, Virginia essentially ran the same offense that was run for the entirety of the 2018 Western Conference Finals. He simply moved players into screens to force switches into advantageous matchups, then he let his stars go and make a play. Oh, and should I mention that the Portland Trailblazers run the blocker-mover offense? Because they do.)

Anyway, the more important point about the Wahoos is that …

3. … DE’ANDRE HUNTER AND TY JEROME ARE DIFFERENCE-MAKERS

After watching that game and rewatching much of the second half, I am more sold on the idea that this Virginia team is the team that can finally get to the Final Four.

No one is going to defend Virginia this season as well as Duke did on Saturday night. The Blue Devils schemed UVA out of everything they wanted to do offensively, and Virginia still gave Duke a fight in Cameron.

The point here isn’t to celebrate a moral victory — remember, Virginia won in Cameron last year and lost in the first round to UMBC. The point is that Hunter and Jerome are as good as any 1-2 punch in college hoops this side of Duke. They can create outside of the confines of Virginia’s system. They can take games over, as Hunter did for a stretch in the first half and as Jerome did for much of the second half. They are NBA players that are hidden by the slowest pace in the sport.

The point is that the concern people have about Virginia winning in March is that they are susceptible to losing to teams that can take them out of what they want to do. Duke did that, and Virginia came a couple of missed threes away from picking them off in Cameron.

Maybe Virginia is more matchup-proof than we realized.

4. DUKE DEFINITELY MISSED TRE JONES

It’s easy to hide flaws in a roster when the top two picks in the draft are able to put up  combined 57 points on 21-for-35 shooting against one of the best defenses in college basketball, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t chinks in the armor.

Part of the reason that Duke had to switch as much as they did on Saturday night, and part of the reason they were eventually forced to go to zone, is that Tre Jones’ defense wasn’t on the floor. Part of the reason that Duke had to play Marques Bolden for 33 minutes despite the fact that he was the guy that Virginia targeted every time they switched was because Tre Jones was on the bench. Part of the reason that Cam Reddish struggled to get things going was because there was no true point guard on the floor to initiate offense.

Duke is better with Tre Jones.

I don’t even think there is a question.

But when you have two dudes that are as good as Zion and RJ are, there are going to be a lot of games where it just doesn’t matter.

WATCH: De’Andre Hunter answers Zion Williamson’s dunk with his own poster

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This Duke-Virginia game is living up to the hype.

After Zion Williamson came close to ending the internet by posterizing Jay Huff, Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter — who is No. 5 in the latest NBC Sports Mock Draft — answered with a poster of his own: