The always-enjoyable Maui Invitational gets underway on Monday. The loaded field is highlighted by the no. 1 Duke Blue Devils, who will face the San Diego State Aztecs. The Blue Devils, who are a perfect 16-0 when playing in Maui, are favored by 14 points.
Naturally, Duke is off to a hot start. Most people saw their 34-point dismantling of Kentucky opening night, and it’s been business as usual ever since. The Blue Devils cruised in wins over both Army and Eastern Michigan. Now coach K’s youngsters set their sights on bringing Duke a fifth Maui Invitational championship.
Of course, San Diego State is no cupcake. Longtime assistant Brian Dutcher has picked up where mentor Steve Fisher left off, taking the Aztecs to the NCAA Tournament last season after they won the Mountain West tournament. SDSU has started fast this year, beating both Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Texas Southern, with the latter game being decided by a 39-point margin. They’ll now try their luck against Duke and the rest of the Maui field.
Unbeatable Blue Devils
Is it too soon to be talking about Duke going undefeated this year? Yes, especially with how loaded the ACC is every year. But it’s not the craziest thought in the world. If you didn’t already know, Duke landed the top three players in this year’s recruiting class, and all of them have looked the part early in the year. Zion Williams, in particular, looks like a force of nature that no college basketball team can handle.
Of course, the Blue Devils are far from a one-man show. R.J. Barrett has also scored 20-plus points in the team’s first three games and Cam Reddish is no slouch either. Of course, fellow freshman Tre Jones should not be forgotten. The young point guard is the straw that stirs the drink, dishing out at least seven assists in the first three games of his college career.
Duke may have outstanding freshmen, but the Aztecs will be relying on a few sophomores who return after strong freshman campaigns. The forward tandem of Matt Mitchell and Jalen McDaniels both averaged over 10 points per game last season and look ready to take on even more of the scoring load this year. They also have the kind of size that could potentially match up well against the Duke frontcourt.
San Diego State will complement those younger players with the all-senior backcourt of Devin Watson and Jeremy Hemsley. Both have shown an improved shooting touch early in the season. The same can be said of sophomore Jordan Schakel, a bigger guard who will be useful against Duke’s size and athleticism. Of course, Watson remains the most important player, as he leads the team in both points and assists early in the year while making seven of his 14 three-point attempts.
For the record, San Diego State is a good team and may be able to create some problems for the Blue Devils. But there’s no evidence in three games that Duke has any weaknesses that could be exploited over the course of 40 minutes. Even if the Aztecs put up a fight, the Blue Devils will pull away in the end. Bet on Duke winning and covering the 14-point spread against San Diego State.