Some of today’s basketball players treat college basketball a lot like a stop at a gas station in the middle of a road trip. College basketball to them is just a mere pit stop on the way to the bright lights of the NBA. I think the consensus is that the majority of the players that think this way go to the University of Kentucky. At Kentucky, these players can compete for a championship right away, and then high tail it out of college to go get paid. Some Kentucky fans might not agree, but it is true. Despite this, can they actually win a championship?
Well, in the last three years, Kentucky has been a team composed mostly of Freshman, and almost entirely of underclassman. And have they won? The short answer is no. In 2013 we saw the one and done idea completely crumble, as Kentucky didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament, but drew the one seed in the NIT. What happened next? They were upset by 8-seeded Robert Morris in one of the biggest upsets in the history of the NIT tournament. However, the last two years have been a different story.
In the 2013-14 season, the team was starting to look a lot like the previous year’s Kentucky team until March. Kentucky drew the 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and preceded to tear through the likes of 9-seeded Kansas State, 1-seeded Wichita State, 4-seeded Louisville, 2-seeded Michigan and 2-seeded Wisconsin, only to fall short to the 7-seeded UConn Huskies in the Championship game. This year, Kentucky absolutely dominated, going 38-0, until they lost to Wisconsin in the Final Four falling short once again, and losing their “Perfect Season”.
This begs the question, how did Duke win the title? Duke recruited a trio of one and done’s for the 2014-15 season, but it was a little bit of a different story.
Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor chose Duke together, as they have been best friends since 3rd grade and have dreamed of playing in College together since then. These two players have had the best chemistry on the court of any duo all year. Quinn Cook, the only senior, gave up his point guard position so that Tyus Jones, the incoming freshman, could play his true position. This sacrifice by Cook, and the graciousness with which he took the move definitely improved this team. Talk about putting your team first.
Cook’s leadership was huge for the Blue Devils. Freshman guards Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen were able to learn from him, while quickly developing on their own. Having lost his Dad at a young age, Quinn Cook was building up to this basketball moment since he was young, and it became the team’s goal to win for Quinn.
Winslow is a drive in wing scorer that Duke hadn’t seen in a while. He was the Defensive anchor that the Blue Devils desperately needed midway through the season, and he sparked the defensive resurgence on this team that drove them to a title.
Are you kidding me? What a year for Coach K. Having to dismiss Rasheed Sulaimon, the first player he ever had to let go, and therefore shrinking his team to only 8 scholarship players. He won his 1000th game. And then he preceded to win his 5th Championship with the thinnest and youngest team that he has had in his 35-year tenure at Duke. He has won it in all in very different eras of the game, and in many different ways.
Big Shots in Big Games
Tyus Jones literally hit every big shot in every big game for Duke this year. He hit the dagger against Wisconsin (Both Times), Louisville, Virginia and UNC (Both times). Cook had his fair share of big shots as well. Justise Winslow was the one who hit every timely shot for Duke in the NCAA Tournament, especially against Utah and Gonzaga in his hometown. In the Championship game, Jahlil Okafor’s and-one late in the second half after Kaminsky bear hugged him opened up the game for the Blue Devils. Grayson Allen? He singlehandedly led Duke back from a nine point deficit at the most desperate of times. Kentucky’s guards showed their ability to put a team away with a big three, but Duke’s guards took it to a whole new level. These Freshman proved that they were better than Kentucky’s group, and defined the phrase “Quality over Quantity” in college basketball terms.