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Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett Combine for 52 in Duke's Rout over Virginia Union

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistOctober 24, 2018

DURHAM, NC - OCTOBER 23: RJ Barrett #5 of the Duke Blue Devils dunks the ball against the Virginia Union Panthers at Cameron Indoor Stadium on October 23, 2018 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
Lance King/Getty Images

Duke kicked off its 2018-19 season with a 106-64 exhibition win over Virginia Union Tuesday. 

R.J. Barrett stole the show with 19 of his 23 points in the first half, while Zion Williamson came on strong late with 29 total points in the blowout win over the Division II opponent. Tre Jones and Cam Reddish helped out with nine assists each.

While Virginia Union didn't provide much resistance for Duke, the young Blue Devils roster lived up to expectations in its first game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

        

R.J. Barrett Is Already a Favorite for National Player of the Year

It's sometimes difficult to stand out on a roster with so many elite prospects, but R.J. Barrett will have no problem doing this in 2018-19. The guard is undoubtedly the best player for Duke and in all likelihood, the best player in college basketball.

Barrett was simply on fire to start the game, showing the type of impact he can have when things are going well:

Arran Andersen @arranandersen

RJ Barrett is 5 of 5 from the field. He has 12 of #Duke's 15 points

Duke Basketball @DukeMBB

Live look at RJ. Dude has 15 of our 18 out of the gate. 🔥🔥🔥 18-10 | 13:30 1H https://t.co/fYyCFYha9A

C.L. Brown @clbrownhoops

Duke’s RJ Barrett 17 scored of the teams first 22 on 7-8 FG shooting vs Virginia Union. With all the talent of their freshman class, I think he’s clearly the most polished

The production slowed down in the second half but he seemed to be letting others catch up in the box score.

Barrett still showed that he can create looks for himself from anywhere on the court, with his deep shot especially working early against Virginia Union. He was moving well without the ball and finding open looks in transition, which could make him unstoppable.

Even in the halfcourt, he can beat almost anyone one-on-one and attack the basket thanks to his elite athleticism.

This is the reason he was ranked the No. 1 prospect in the 2017 class by 247Sports, and it's why he was named a preseason All-American before ever playing a college game, per ESPN.

His four assists and three steals also showed he can do more even when he isn't putting the ball in the hoop.

Considering his possible impact for a national title contender and the fact there are few established stars heading into the college basketball season, Barrett should be the top pick to be named National Player of the Year.

         

Zion Williamson is More Than Human Highlight Reel

Williamson is the biggest name on the roster and one of the most hyped freshmen ever thanks to his highlight-reel dunks on display throughout his high school career.

While he still showed these types of plays against Virginia Union, it was also clear that he is more than just a dunker.

The athleticism not only helped him finish 11-of-13 from the field, but he also made an impact on the defensive end with six rebounds and two blocks.

His physical prowess also includes ridiculous strength for an 18-year-old:

Stephen Wiseman @stevewisemanNC

When people talk about a player being strong with the ball, all one needs to do is watch Zion Williamson. He snatches the ball out of a crowd on rebounds or loose balls. Able to adjust his shot in close quarters to avoid defender and still force the ball in.

C.J. Watson @Quietstorm_32

Zion Williamson is a man amongst boys playing in college sheesh

Of course, few are questioning Williamson's physical attributes going into his freshman year. He instead needs to prove to scouts that he can make plays away from the net and he did that against Virginia Union.

Williamson was beating players off the dribble to create for himself from the perimeter, also displaying excellent vision to create opportunities for others. He finished Tuesday's game with four assists and should consistently produce these types of numbers.

He also didn't need to take many jump shots against the Panthers, but he did attempt one three-pointer and has clearly worked on his outside shooting.

With the talent around him on this roster, the forward would be fine staying down low and just finishing dunks all day long. However, it already looks like he is trying to round out his game to become a more dangerous player going forward.

       

What's Next?

Duke will have one more exhibition against Ferris State on Saturday before getting ready for the regular-season opener against Kentucky on Nov. 6.

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