Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Trevor Keels says current Duke team has ‘better talent’ and ‘better depth’ than 2015 NCAA championship team, can ‘definitely’ win the title
By ADAM ZAGORIA
Duke freshman guard Trevor Keels says the current Blue Devils have “better talent” and “better depth” than the 2015 team that won the NCAA championship, and that this year’s team can “definitely” cut down the nets in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final year with the program.
Keels was asked Thursday on a Zoom call about the role that Amile Jefferson, Duke’s Director of Player Development and a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team, has with the current team.
“The 2015 team, they lost four games regular season, just like we got four losses, so especially after that fourth loss [to Virginia] he was talking to us like the season’s not over,” said the 6-foot-4 Keels, who is averaging 11.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists. “There’s a lot we can change.”
No. 9 Duke is 22-4, 12-3 in the ACC heading into Saturday’s game with Florida State. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has them as a 2 seed.
“[Jefferson] talks to us all the time like he sees a lot of similarities in that 2015 team and we truly believe him,” Keels said. “I know they wouldn’t be on us like this if they didn’t think we could get a national championship. And I think we got the same personnel they had, I think we got better talent than what they had, better depth. I think they had like eight players, I think we got more, and we can go into the bench and I think we can definitely win a national championship like they did.”
The 2015 team was just the second team after the 2012 Kentucky squad to win an NCAA championship while relying heavily on one-and-done players. Jahlil Okafor went No. 3 in that year’s draft, Justice Winslow No. 10 and Tyus Jones No. 24.
Some mock drafts have five current Duke players going in the first round of this year’s draft: freshmen Paolo Banchero, A.J. Griffin and Keels, sophomore big man Mark Williams and junior wing Wendell Moore Jr.
As Mike DeCourcy pointed out in his excellent column this week, several of this year’s top teams, including Duke, don’t have en elite point guard, one who either was a McDonald’s All-American or is a projected NBA pick.
The 2015 team had Jones, now averaging 8.1 points and 4.2 assists with the Memphis Grizzlies, and also had Quinn Cook at point.
This year’s Duke team relies on Moore to do much of the facilitating for an attack that gets 30 minutes a game from point guard Jeremy Roach but only 37 percent shooting and 3.4 assists. Moore leads the Devils with 4.5 assists per game.
Duke is one of about eight teams that is favored to win the NCAA title in New Orleans in early April, but can they do it without a traditional point guard?
“I think there are some really good college point guards that can take you to a Final Four,” ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla told DeCourcy. “I just don’t think it’s a given that you have to have that player in modern college basketball.
“Put it this way, if Matt Painter had Chris Paul in his backcourt, I am sure the ball would be in his hands 80 percent of the time. But if you don’t have that player, I think you can still have a really good team and win a national title. Just not maybe as we’ve traditionally seen, in the past.”
Follow Adam Zagoria on TwitterFollow ZAGSBLOGHoops on InstagramAnd Like ZAGS on Facebook
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.