At the college level, Zion Williamson is almost unstoppable. At 6-7 and 280 pounds, the Duke freshman can power his way to the rim whenever he wants. He’s more bulldozer than ballerina, but he’s got foot speed and a smooth handle.
How will his game translate to the NBA? Very well. Williamson would be able to score against the Golden State Warriors. He will be the No. 1 draft pick. But he’s not the best prospect since Michael Jordan in 1984, as Scottie Pippen absurdly stated on an ESPN show this week.
Jordan was the No. 3 pick that year. Williamson is more like Charles Barkley, who was the fifth pick. To say Williamson is the top talent to enter the draft since Jordan is asinine. He’s got more potential than LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Kobe Bryant, Shaq and others? No way. Turn down the hype and hot takes.
Williamson was outstanding in Duke’s narrow victory over Virginia on Jan. 19, when he scored 27 points on 10-for-16 shooting. However, the Cavaliers made uncharacteristic mistakes on the defensive end by not squeezing the floor on Williamson and forcing him to shoot from the perimeter. He missed his only 3-point attempt and shot 14 free throws. It’s unlike Virginia, which ranks No. 2 in the nation in defensive efficiency, to allow so many dribble drives and foul so often. Cavs coach Tony Bennett will adjust his defense for today’s rematch.
The Blue Devils have so many weapons, it’s impossible to contain them all. But the top priority should be limiting Williamson’s attacks on the rim. Force him to score from 3-point range, where he shoots 28.6 percent. Bennett is likely to pack in his defense and force Duke to shoot more 3s. None of the team’s top four scorers — RJ Barrett, Williamson, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones — shoot better than 34 percent from 3. In the first meeting, the Devils were 2-for-14 from 3 and won the game with Williamson’s drives and a huge free-throw disparity.
Aside from Williamson, another major concern for Virginia (20-1) is the health of point guard Ty Jerome, who has a sore back and is expected to hobble into this matchup.
Duke, missing injured point guard Jones in the January meeting, was a 3½-point favorite in a 72-70 victory — the Cavaliers covered thanks to DeAndre Hunter’s baseline jumper as time expired. The Blue Devils (20-2) have not been underdogs since the season opener when they were getting two points against Kentucky and rolled 118-84.
Jerome’s status is cause for pause, but expect a better defensive performance from the Cavaliers on their home floor. Hunter, Kyle Guy and Braxton Key are capable of picking up the slack if Jerome’s play slips.
Play: (714) Virginia (-1½) over Duke
Other plays for Saturday:
(624) Mississippi State (plus-4) over Kentucky
(625) Auburn (plus-3) over LSU
(665) Louisville (plus-3) over Florida State
(708) Baylor (-3) over Kansas State
(760) San Diego State (plus-3) over Utah State