The clash between Duke and Virginia on Saturday night at the Cameron indoor stadium was the rare clash between teams, each ranked at number 1 in the polls. Virginia entered as the last undefeated team in the country after Michigan's defeat earlier that day, but Duke remained the most exaggerated and talented team in the United States.
The talent won.
Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Duke survived Virginia 72-70 at home. The game was defined with abrupt changes in the moment and changes of leadership throughout the night, but the pair of stars of first year of Duke seized of the victory.
This was a very close defensive battle from the starting point. But when Duke needed a basket late, Williamson and Barrett made their way to the edge and found a way to finish. Virginia, for all her excellence at both ends of the floor, simply did not have the horses to finish with a team with the first two NBA draft picks in June.
Here are three things we learned in this game.
1. Zion Williamson showed why he is the best player in the country.
This was the Zion Williamson Show from the beginning of the game. You'll see this nailed all week:
Of course, Williamson is much more than a fool. He finished the night with 27 points and nine rebounds in 10-of-16 shots from the field, while making defensive plays that changed the game. Williamson initiated Duke's offense as the de facto setter without the injured rookie Tre Jones, and Virginia had no answer for that.
Williamson was flying around the court at both ends. His blocks are as entertaining as his mates:
There is no doubt that Williamson will be the first overall pick in the June draft. College basketball fans should feel lucky to see him at this level, even if it's only for one year.
2. Virginia can hang with anyone
The Cavaliers went down the road and brought Duke to the final possession. Give the Hoos credit for controlling the pace most of the night and finding a way to get Duke out of the three-point line. We know that Tony Bennett's teams have annually one of the best defensive units in the country, and proved their worth again by limiting Duke's offensive production for most of the night.
The three stars of Virginia played well. De'Andre Hunter led the team with 18 points, while starting guard Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy added 14 points apiece. Braxton Key contributed 11 points from the bench.
There's a rematch in three weeks on the Virginia house floor. We can not wait. Who knows, we might even see these teams meet again in the Final Four.
3. Duke is amazing even without Tre Jones.
Jones twisted his shoulder against Syracuse on Monday, leaving a large gap as a point guard for Duke. He is a first-round pick in his own right, an intelligent facilitator, an excellent defender of the perimeter and possibly the emotional leader of Duke.
Duke has just defeated one of the five best teams in the country, even without him.
That's how good Williamson and Barrett are. When Williamson starts to steal the headlines, it's worth noting that Barrett was also a stallion in this game, which ended with 30 points in 11 of 19 shots and with the formation of ice in the game. None He does that against Virginia.
I do not know if it has been said in broadcast, but until today no player has scored more than 22 points against Virginia. RJ is 28 and Zion 27
– Mike Gribanov (@ mikegrib8) January 20, 2019
Give us this rematch right now. And give us back to Minneapolis. Duke is still the biggest heavyweight in college basketball, but Virginia showed why he is a contender for the national title even in defeat.