Zion Williamson, Duke looking scary on preseason tour

Sport and science collide at Duke's 'K-Lab' (1:39)

In an excerpt from the upcoming show on ESPN+ called "Earned Everything," learn how the K-Lab works closely with the Duke basketball team. (1:39)

College basketball fans will get another sneak peek at an elite program when Duke continues its Canadian exhibition tour with matchups against the University of Toronto at 6 p.m. ET Friday and McGill University at 3 p.m. ET Sunday. Both games will air on ESPN+. Last week, Kentucky, ranked first in ESPN's Way-Too-Early Top 25, collected four wins on a trip to the Bahamas, solidifying its position as the team to beat in college basketball as the 2018-19 season approaches.

But Duke, ranked third, boasts the top recruiting class in America. Two key players in that group, Tre Jones and Cam Reddish, will miss the games in Canada because of a hip injury and strained groin, respectively.

Zion Williamson (29 points), the viral phenom who dunked from the free throw line in a practice this week, and R.J. Barrett (34 points), the No. 1 player in the 2018 class, led the Blue Devils to an 86-67 win over Ryerson University on Wednesday.

We learned a lot about Duke in that game. But we still have questions about the Blue Devils before their next two matchups.

What we learned in Duke's win over Ryerson

1. Williamson is even scarier than we'd imagined: After a series of ferocious dunks in high school, Williamson became a rock star. Drake sported his jersey in Instagram pics. Last summer, LeBron James couldn't get into an AAU game that featured Williamson's squad versus LaMelo Ball's team in Las Vegas because event officials were concerned about breaking local fire codes. Williamson has 1.7 million Instagram followers.


Zion brings crowd to its feet

Zion Williamson's explosive playmaking leads to a one-handed dunk and gets the crowd excited.

As he went viral off wild dunks, people began to speculate that he might be a one-dimensional talent. Throughout the offseason, critics also questioned his weight. They asked aloud if he would live up to the hype under Mike Krzyzewski. All of those doubts were erased Wednesday.

Williamson had a block early in the first quarter (they're using FIBA rules) and he converted on the other end with an acrobatic layup. Early in the second quarter, he swatted a shot near the top of the backboard. Sure, it was goaltending, but who really cares? A 6-foot-6, 285-pound human being (unconfirmed) reached to the top of the glass and sent a shot to Quebec. He followed that with a dunk in traffic that made the crowd scream. He played point guard on a fast break and found Barrett on the wing for a 3-pointer in the corner in the first half, too. He finished 3-for-4 from beyond the arc.

By the end of the game, Ryerson had that "Are you sure he just turned 18 last month?" look. It's easy to criticize the game of a young star until you see the way he overshadows other players and leaps over them with his athleticism and explosiveness. Williamson is an impossible matchup for players outside the NBA.

The collegiate players he'll face this season will encounter the same hurdles that affected Ryerson. He's just too big, too quick, too strong, too bouncy to contain, especially at this level.

2. Barrett's presence will allow Coach K to use multiple lineups this season: Barrett finished Wednesday's game with 34 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 5 turnovers. The Blue Devils traveled to Canada to give the local hero a proper homecoming before the season starts.

And the Mississauga, Ontario, native did it all against Ryerson. He slashed to the rim. He showed off his range. With Jones out, he played point guard. The projected top pick in next summer's NBA draft is the versatile leader of a program chasing its first national title since 2015 and its fourth since 2000. Barrett didn't shoot well, finishing 12-for-30 from the field and 2-for-8 from the 3-point line. But he's clearly capable of defending multiple positions and creating mismatches on offense as the catalyst for a squad that could reach the Final Four in Minneapolis eight months from now.


Barrett, Zion connect on alley-oop

In transition, R.J. Barrett finds Zion Williamson for an electrifying dunk.

Once Reddish and Jones return, Krzyzewski will have multiple guards who can direct the action on the court. He can employ small ball and use Williamson at the 5, which he did at times on Wednesday. But he can also go big with Reddish or Barrett at point guard and Marques Bolden in the middle. Krzyzewski has options. And that should terrify the ACC and the rest of the country.

What we hope to learn Friday and Sunday

1. What health concerns will the team have after the trip? Minutes into Duke's victory in its opening win on the trip, Alex O'Connell suffered a broken orbital bone in his face as he tried to defend the rim. He will miss the rest of the Canadian games as a result. Jones and Reddish are already out. The scariest components of any preseason trip are potential injuries, and Duke has certainly been impacted by injuries in past years. Last season, Marvin Bagley III missed multiple games with a mild knee sprain. If you're a Duke fan, you're just hoping the Blue Devils make it back to Durham, North Carolina, next week without another injury.

2. What position will Zion play? In this era of positionless basketball, Williamson doesn't need a particular spot. In the first game of the tour, he handled the ball, played in the paint, hit 3-pointers and defended the rim. What position is that? Does it matter? Against most opponents, it won't. But when Duke faces teams like Gonzaga, North Carolina, Villanova, Kentucky and Kansas (five teams with their own fleets of versatile players), the Blue Devils will need Williamson to be comfortable in his role, whatever it is. That's why it's important to monitor his performance in the coming days. He's strong enough to dominant the paint, but he also wants to roam and show the world (and NBA execs) that he's more than a freak athlete. Gaining a sense of where Williamson will and should play this season is an important question on this trip for Duke's staff.

3. Is Zion's shooting touch real? On Wednesday, Williamson made 75 percent of his 3-pointers. And Twitter went crazy over it. Why? Williamson's shooting mechanics and ability were critiqued throughout his prep career. While he's a powerful player, today's stars make their money away from the basket. If Williamson can prove in Canada that he's even a modest 3-point shooter, and enjoy similar success throughout the season, he'll enhance Duke's shot at the national title and elevate his NBA profile.

4. Will Bolden break through? On a night in which Duke looked fine with Williamson playing inside, Bolden finished the game with three turnovers and zero points in 19 minutes. A few years ago, he was a five-star talent at the center of a recruiting battle between Duke and Kentucky. Today, he's a 6-11 junior who could get lost in Duke's sea of versatility. Bolden has to prove he's worth significant minutes on a team with championship aspirations. A good showing in Canada will help him do that.

5. Will Barrett cut down on turnovers? When John Calipari's USA team lost in the semifinals to Canada in last summer's U19 FIBA World Championships in Egypt, Barrett was playing point guard for his national team. At Duke, Krzyzewski could employ lineups that use Barrett in that role this season. He's a potential superstar. And the only knock from his debut on the exhibition tour was his five turnovers. His growth as a ball handler will be a crucial element in this team's success.