The expected return of Zion Williamson can not arrive soon enough to help Duke repair his flaws



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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The big shadow of the young man was omnipresent in Saturday's game between No. 4 Duke and No. 3 in North Carolina: pre-match hype that always accompanies a match between two of the most Great rivals of the sport, in-game analysis that showed how thin, the Blue Devils looked down, at the breakdown after the game, where the main player that everyone wanted to hear was the one who had not played basketball for 23 days.

Zion Williamson is the story that consumed college basketball well before the first night of the season. There are 353 teams in the University Basketball Division I and nearly 5,000 players, but only one university basketball player can use the imagination of a sports public. He is the unicorn university basketball player who has not only become a regular sports name, but has already become a status reserved for first names.

Whether it's Zion's viral video diving into the free throw line during a Duke training in August, or the 28-point performance and seven rebounds with several super-dunks on the first night of the college season, we wondered The team could do 40-0, until the evening when President Obama threw him on the court at Cameron Indoor Stadium, when Zion blew his shoe and injured a few knee seconds after the start of the first Duke-UNC match. shimmy on the bench during the pre-game hype before sitting down while wearing a Duke black polo shirt instead of a Duke black jersey, this season is devoted to one thing: Zion, Zion, Zion.

North Carolina's 79-70 victory on Saturday night was a dominant demonstration of what she's doing best: going out in transition, speeding up the pace, banging at home, crushing the boards, spreading the score between her lottery picks. likely once (1) Coby White, Nassir Little) and experienced veterans (Cameron Johnson, Luke Maye, Kenny Williams). If the last seven weeks, during which North Carolina scored 14-1 during the VAC match, had not already established this fact, the Tar Heels should be one of the seeded number 1 of the NCAA Tournament and should not be considered as such. just a team capable of qualifying for the Final Four but a team that should be one of the favorites to do it. The Roy Williams teams are just getting great by March.

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Zion Williamson was in street gear as a Duke player for the last time maybe Saturday.

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But what mattered more to the Americans this Saturday night at Dean Dome concerned the losing team, and this story appeared completely relieved only minutes after the start of the match.

A little over two minutes after the tip, Alex O Connell, the Duke's second guard, unleashed a 3-pointer on the edge. The ball bounced back to Kenny Williams, a senior from North Carolina, who – the Tar Heels being the Tar Heels, one of the country's fastest teams – pitched the ball ahead of him in the transition to Garrison Brooks .

As Brooks rose to the edge and nearly 22,000 people at the Dean E. Smith Center were seething, Brands Bolden, the tall, muscular Duke junior who was half a step behind, jumped to try to challenge the lay-up. Brooks and Bolden collided in the air, then Bolden landed amusingly on his left foot, slamming violently into the post. Immediately, with the kind of reaction that pushes a bench coach in a hurry, Bolden catches his knee. He squirmed on the floor. The Carolina crowd was killed while coaches and managers formed a circle around Bolden. After a few minutes, two teammates helped him out of the ground. The immediate fear was a torn ACL; Thank goodness, it turned out far from that, an MCL under pressure.

But it was still enough to hit Bolden out of the game, which leaves Duke a last player running on an already shortened rotation. Duke had a 40-38 lead at half-time and his coach, Mike Krzyzewski, then congratulated his team for continuing to fight, but the moment when Bolden fell was felt as the moment when the match became a defeat for Carolina.

This season, with such a small bench and a team that depends so much on first-year players, Duke simply has no leeway to hurt himself.

Freshman Tre Jones played every 40 minutes and later told me that fatigue had played a role in Caroline's victory over Duke in the second half. Freshman RJ Barrett played 38 minutes despite serious problems that had plagued him throughout the match; freshman Cam Reddish played 39 minutes.

Shooting distribution? Ugh. Reddish took 23 shots and Barrett 27; this means that 50 of the 73 Duke's firing attempts were made by two players. That's almost 70% of their shots.

That's also why Coach K, before answering questions, before he clinched, how Carolina swept both games against Duke for the first time in 10 years, before congratulating Carolina's four-year-old players for their Senior Night, has the Duke polo whose biggest contribution Saturday night was to be a smiling cheerleader and smiling for his teammates.

"This is not the level necessary to win a championship, to win a championship you have to be exceptional."Mike Krzyzewski, Duke coach

"We have just had what I call combat injuries – not being injured in training, nor being sick, but they play hard," said Lt. coach K afterwards. "I think we'll have Sion back on Thursday (at the ACC tournament)." He had worked this morning, again, no contact, but on Monday there will be one, and I hope that we'll have some good practice days where he can play five-on-five and see how it goes, what it looks like now, I think it's just a matter of fitness, fitness, and the future . "

Here's the truth about this Duke team: Without Sion, everything is fine. Not really good, but a little inconsistent. Coach K admitted it freely on Saturday: "This is not the level necessary to win a championship," he said. "To win a championship, you have to be exceptional."

With Zion in good health, this team, with all its warts (lack of depth, lack of experience, shooting at 3 points among the worst in the nation), is remarkable. They are the favorite hand in hand to win everything. This The team is the team that overwhelmed experts speculated a few months ago as a team capable of beating an NBA team. But this team is only this team if Zion is back and if Zion is 100 percent.

It does not matter that it is a pre-season practice or a dominant performance on national television, that he dances in the sideline of the "Jump Around" from House of Pain or as he tests this healing knee in a full-contact practice to clear his path. Back to form, that he really returns to Duke this season – coach K has no doubt about it – or if he takes the advice of so many strangers and runs away, he and his body during the June NBA draft. There will always be a truth about this basketball season: it's all about Zion.

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