In recent weeks, college basketball programs have been going to sleep and letting sweet March dreams of a prolonged NCAA Tournament wash over them. Last night, that slumber was broken by a hulking and familiar terror.
Zion Williamson leaned over the bed and whispered, in that haunting and spine-chilling sing-song: “I’m baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack.”
Returning to game action for the first time since injuring his knee on Feb. 20, the Duke phenom was perfect. Literally perfect. He went 13-for-13 from the floor en route to 29 points. The freshman added 14 rebounds and five steals as the Blue Devils advanced to the ACC Tournament semifinals.
Looming now is a date with North Carolina, a chance to exorcise sneaker demons of the past, and solidify a No. 1 seed in the big dance.
Overnight, Duke moved from uncertain and shaky terrain onto the firmest of foundations. The Blue Devils will go as far as Williamson takes them. That’s not a knock on the supporting cast of R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Tre Jones. It’s an honest reckoning of what we saw when the best player in college basketball was sidelined.
The pure domination last night was a statement by a guy who has had so many statements made about him this past month. It was as if he took all those, channeled them into a perfect and controlled rage, and unleashed fury upon the world.
His explosiveness was all there. His furious tenacity was on display. He fought like a scrappy walk-on thirsty for every basketball. The difference, of course, is that he’s not created like all the rest. That combination of want to and ability to is what makes him so special.
Williamson is playing because he’s healthy enough to play and because, simply, he loves playing basketball. Great news for Duke and fans of perfection. An actual nightmare for everyone else.
An extra-motivated Zion aimed at shoving a national title in armchair experts’ faces is an added dimension. Combine it with everything else and it’s the perfect storm. Awe-inspiring, but devastating.