As the matchup of the Duke Blue Devils and Kansas Jayhawks approached on Tuesday night, there was little doubt that fans would see an incredibly close game between two of the most talented teams in the country. After all, the two sides rank fourth and fifth in the nation, so there was little doubting that there would be plenty of impressive plays to go around.
Possibly even more important to many people than this game between two top college basketball teams was the matchup between the teams’ top players: Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins. The two were the undoubted top freshmen in the nation coming into the 2013-14 season, as well as the unquestioned top two prospects heading into the 2014 NBA Draft.
Once the game actually tipped off, the play between the two teams and their two stars mirrored each other in an eery fashion. Early on, Duke got out to a lead largely based on the great play of Parker, while Kansas and Wiggins stumbled a bit as the star picked up two fouls in the first seven minutes of the game.
But during the second half the role of both teams flipped completely on its head as Kansas completely dominated the final 10 minutes of the game and won 94-83, led by Wiggins letting loose.
Meanwhile, much like his team, Parker faded down the stretch, seemingly being brought down by a mix of fatigue and Kansas figuring out how to best defend him. Still, a statistical line of 27 points, nine rebounds, three steals, one assist and one block cannot be ignored, but as is often the case, numbers can certainly deceive one’s eyes. In this game that was certainly the case, although there is little doubting that the Duke star has an incredible future and will be aided greatly by a season under the great Mike Krzyzewski.
For his part, Wiggins also ended up compiling quite impressive statistics, finishing the game with 22 points, 10 rebounds, twi assists, one block and only one turnover. These numbers do not pop off the page when placed next to Parker’s, but Wiggins’ athleticism and touch around the basket did more than just garner attention. Throughout the game, the star showed the ability to jump out of the gym, a first step that will leave nearly all college defenders looking at his back and a short-range jumper that will force teams to refrain from packing it in so he does not solely go to the rim.
Each of these positive traits were explicitly shown during the final two minutes of the game, as Wiggins took the game out of reach by himself. The first case of doing this came when he took a step back jumper over an onrushing defender with 1:33 left in the game to take Kansas’ lead to 85-81, which hurt any chances of a comeback immensely. As if sensing blood, the star scored the next two points of the game after a Perry Ellis steal by throwing down a dunk that shook the house with 1:17 left in the game, which was the dagger in Duke’s heart.
While it would be easy to expect that Wiggins would dominate the college basketball landscape after being dubbed the best young talent since LeBron James, it was hard to ignore the way he progressed as the game moved on. The ability to show this improvement despite dealing with fatigue and the pressure of playing in front of a packed house at Chicago, Illinois, and in front of millions of people watching on ESPN certainly only upped the play seen on the floor.
Furthermore, Wiggins was able to one-up his biggest threat for the number one pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and do so in style. By accomplishing this, he not only established a hold on the title of best college basketball player in the nation, but the world’s best basketball player not playing in the NBAtoday.