The Duke Blue Devils looked pedestrian without Zion Williamson during Tuesday's 71-70 victory over the 11-18 Wake Forest Demon Deacons and will likely have to battle the archrival North Carolina Tar Heels without him Saturday.
"I don't think he'll be ready for Saturday," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said, per C.L. Brown of The Athletic. "I have to be careful not to push this. I'd be surprised if he's not ready by the ACC tournament."
Williamson suffered a knee injury in the opening minute of a Feb. 20 loss to the Tar Heels when his foot went through the bottom of his shoe. Duke has gone 3-2 without him.
Duke looked lost in the first matchup with North Carolina after Williamson went out with his injury.
Luke Maye (30 points and 15 rebounds) and Cameron Johnson (26 points, seven rebounds and four assists) exploited the Blue Devils on the inside, targeting smaller defenders and taking full advantage of the absence of Duke's primary shot-blocker.
Fortunately for Krzyzewski's team, it still has RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish as two potential top-five picks to lead the way. That is a luxury no other team in the country can count on, especially with its top playmaker sidelined with injury.
Barrett rescued Duke in Tuesday's victory with 28 points, five rebounds and four assists, while Reddish dealt with foul trouble throughout.
While that duo is more talented than almost anything an opponent can counter with, it is difficult to envision the Blue Devils living up to national championship expectations without Williamson. He is an impossible matchup in one-on-one scenarios, which forces defenses to send double-teams his way and opens up his teammates.
He also cleans up the glass and protects the rim on defense, where the Blue Devils have been particularly vulnerable since he suffered his injury.
Duke is still playing for an ACC crown and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but it may be without Williamson as it does so during the closing stretch of the season.