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Kansas vs. Duke

by: Rich Salvatori @dickiesalvatori - posted on: 12-Nov-2013

This early season college basketball gift in the form of a doubleheader between four of the nation's best programs has been dubbed many things. The latter matchup, set to tip sometime after the first is over, is being looked at primarily as a battle of two freshman phenoms who could easily go one and two in the NBA Draft come June.

This game has so much more involved in it than just that. Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins are incredible players, but they are also new pieces to teams that carry tremendous talent in a variety of other areas as well.

Starting with the Dukies, this could be Coach K's most talented bunch since the days of Jay Williams and Shane Battier. While Quinn Cook is not as flashy and as offensive minded as some of the former Blue Devil floor leaders, he is a veteran presence and pretty darn good one. 

A distributor and defender more so than anything else, he is also the quarterback of a team that could be extremely special on the offensive end. Cook was the facilitator who made sure both Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee were kept happy on an Elite 8 team a year ago. This year he appears to have a more selfless team around him in many ways. 

Cook pairs with a dynamic scorer to be at shooting guard in Rasheed Sulaimon. Sulaimon is currently viewed as a spot up shooter who can absolutely crank when given the opportunity. But he is also a 6'4 athlete from Houston who can do a lot more should the offense open up a bit more this year.

That is made possible by Rodney Hood, a 6'8 transfer from Mississippi State who grades out as an defensive nightmare for many small forwards. Hood is explosive enough to make plays on the defensive end and create opportunities in transition. He is also selfless enough to play a more limited role offensively.

While Duke has primarily been a penetrate and kick team, they can still do that but have a ton of options in terms of creating high percentage scoring opportunities. 

Floor spacing is everything in hoops, and having Quick Cook with the ball running a pick and role with the 6'8, 235 pound Parker, with Sulaimon in one corner while Amile Jefferson and Hood wait to attack the glass is not just a bad option, but one that could become lethal depending on how good the defense is.

Kansas has historically been a very good defensive bunch. Last season, it took them the better part of two months to get there. They experienced tremendous roster turnover from the prior year and it took them time.

My first impression of Kansas when Wiggins chose to go there was that they would not be deep. I am not inclined to say that any longer, and that may be the most telling aspect of this squad, regardless of what their defense looks like early.

Naadir Tharpe is a pretty good point guard and he will be aided by the presence of Frank Mason, a freshman point from Virginia who is getting little recognition right now. Mason went the prep school route after his senior year, but he is a very good guard who is cerebral with the ball and capable of managing games at a high level while creating in a variety of ways.

Mason's presence in a back court with Tharpe and fellow freshman Wayne Seldon is a nice little grouping. Conner Frankamp is a very capable shooter, and provides a true stretch option for Self to work with off the bench. 

Selden is an incredibly interesting player in this game, though. He is a matchup nightmare and far more athletic than Suilamon. He is the player who, even more so than Wiggins, could push this team into legitimate national championship contention. 

Whether he is entirely committed on the defensive end this early in the season is anyone's guess. It could also take time for him to understand how to play within the scope of this offense, but make no mistake, this offense is geared toward his skill set in many ways.

And then there is Wiggins at the three spot, a supremely gifted but somewhat mild mannered freshman from Canada. Wiggins is the real deal, but he is not quite advanced enough at this point in time to dominate Hood the way some seem to think is likely. 

Wiggins will have his most important contribution on the offensive glass, where he joins Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor, Tarik Black and Joel Ambiid to create what me be the most dangerous front court in the country.

Black is a transfer from Memphis who grades out as a top level rebounder just based on his numbers at Memphis. To get him in the offseason to place into this front court is enormous. He is not only talented and selfless, but also a veteran who can help this team progress more quickly over the course of time.

More important than anything else is the fact that he requires so much attention on the defensive boards. Jefferson should be able to match up with him fine, but  the two banging together for 40 minutes could lead to foul issues for both clubs.

The Dukies are better at the line than Kansas in this young season. I think both groups are good enough to play defense at a better level despite the way games are being called. The outrageous foul numbers being racked up in certain match ups is in many ways a testimony to pace and the fact that a lot of teams out there are simply bad at guarding people.  

Regardless of style, pace and officiating, Kansas needs its guards to be consistent and steady in this game. Duke is far more proven in that area, but they are also going to be a bit mismatched inside.

Coach K versus a young, Bill Self led team is worth something to the spread for me, but  the current number of five is pretty good. Duke's bench is probably the most important factor here. Alex Murphy, Josh Hairston and Semi Ojeleye could well decide just how much of an advantage Kansas has inside. I m pretty uncertain as to how they stack up against the bodies Kansas bring to the table, especially given the potential for foul troubles. 

This game should be incredible tonight It's difficult to pick a winner at this number. A lot of people seem to like the Blue Devils, which makes a lot of sense in a way. On one hand, they have the better coach and guards to make this their game.

But Kansas has some special players and perhaps a better overall team from top to bottom, even if they do not know it yet. I expected Duke to mesh far better early in the year, but also think Duke's penchant for playing up tempo could also get them in a bit of trouble at times in a game like this. 

Sit back and enjoy the show. it should be a good one!