Take 5: Bama, Blue Devils, Bryant


Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group

Golden State Warriors’ Klay Thompson (11) drives to the hoop against New Orleans Pelicans’ E’Twaun Moore (55) and Anthony Davis (23) in the first quarter during their NBA game at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, on Wednesday, Oct. 31.

By The Pitt News Staff

This week in sports, two dominant college programs — one in football, one in basketball — staked their claim as the best, while Pitt’s not-so-dominant 2017 basketball team looks to shine in 2018. Our weekly Take 5 covers these topics and more.

Blue Devil’s advocate

The college basketball season tipped off Monday night and — as they have for the past seven years — Duke, Kansas, Michigan State and Kentucky played in the Champions Classic, an annual doubleheader featuring these four historic programs. Since they are perennial championship contenders, these star-studded non-conference games are typically a good indicator of who will still be playing late into March.

One team left no doubt that it should be the favorite to cut down the nets in Minneapolis — the Duke Blue Devils. No. 4 Duke opened its season with a statement win, routing No. 2 Kentucky 118-84. The Blue Devils boast an obscene amount of talent, highlighted by three first-year, top-five recruits in Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish — all of whom are projected to be lottery picks in next summer’s NBA draft.

Barrett and Williamson both beat the school record for points by a first-year in their debut. Williamson scored 28 with seven rebounds, while Barrett added 33 points and six assists.

Most teams would be more than happy to enter a season ranked in the top four, but Duke almost seemed insulted. The Blue Devils played fast and angry, clearly trying to prove that they’re not just good — they’re great. They can shoot, they’re athletic, and they have a hall of fame coach at the helm. Duke deserves a No. 1 ranking and should be the favorite to win it all.

— Stephen Thompson, Staff Writer

Forgot about Klay

You likely heard about Klay Thompson’s epic performance on Oct. 29, when he buried an NBA single-game record 14 3-pointers during a 149-124 win over the Bulls. He finished with 52 points that night, writing his name in the record books.

It takes a very special player to do that, but because Thompson is probably the fourth-best player on a ridiculous Warriors squad, many view him as a role-player. But Thompson is capable of carrying his own team to the playoffs, given the chance to be the first option.

Thompson is more than just a glorified Kyle Korver or JJ Redick. Those type of players generally average around 13 to 16 points per game, but Klay has been averaging at least 20 a game for years now, which is especially impressive given the amount of shots that Curry and Durant take.

On his own team, it is entirely plausible that he averages north of 25 points per game. Many will point to the fact that Thompson is assisted on many of his points, claiming he’s merely a catch-and-shooter. But he has proven time and time again that he is more than capable of creating his shot, expanding his driving and midrange capabilities in recent years, all while maintaining his 3-point prowess. On top of that, he remains one of the league’s best perimeter defenders. If you still don’t think Klay Thompson can carry his own team, it’s time to wake up.

— Jack Clay, Staff Writer

Alabama is just Tua good

The undefeated Alabama Crimson Tide is once again showing the college football universe why it is one of the favorites to win another College Football Playoff Championship. This juggernaut has steamrolled through opponents by an average margin of 37.2 points. Saturday night’s game in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, proved to the world how good this Alabama team really is and left everyone asking the question — can anyone beat Bama?

Saturday night featured a primetime matchup between two bitter SEC West rivals, No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 LSU. This marquee matchup was supposed to be the first true challenge for the Crimson Tide, yet they dominated the Tigers throughout the entire game. Alabama beat LSU 29-0 in its own stadium and outgained the Tigers 576 to 196 yards.

The closest margin of victory for the Crimson Tide this season came against Texas A&M, when the Tide won by 22 points. Star sophomore quarterback and Heisman-favorite Tua Tagovailoa has thrown for 27 touchdowns and just threw his first and only interception of the season Saturday. Tagovailoa played in the fourth quarter for the first time all season — and it was only because backup Jalen Hurts was injured. The main critique of Alabama was that it was cruising through easy teams on its schedule. After watching the same outcome happen against a formidable LSU team, I can’t see any team in all of college football beating head coach Nick Saban and his Crimson Tide.

— Tyler Moran, Staff Writer

A Zoo Era in Pitt basketball

Pitt men’s basketball rang in a new era Tuesday night with a 19-point win over Youngstown State. New head coach Jeff Capel was far from satisfied with the way his team played, but said his team did some things that they could be proud of in their first game of the season.

The men’s program is coming off of one of its worst seasons in recent memory, posting an 8-24 record and losing every single game in the ACC. With that hard-to-watch season came a heartbroken fan base and a need for overhaul of the program. In comes Capel, taking his first head coaching job in years, fresh off a job as coach Krzyzewski’s lead assistant at Duke. Anyone who thought this was not a good hire for Pitt was simply not paying attention.

Capel brought in an impressive recruiting class for a rebuild program, landing first-year guards Trey McGowens and Xavier Johnson, two players set to be the heart and soul of this Pitt team. They settled in nicely after struggling early on and finished as Pitt’s leading scorers with 17 and 16 points, respectively. The team showed grit and toughness — something its coach preaches often — and played hard to the final whistle when it had much earlier secured a victory.

Don’t go expecting an undefeated season out of these Panthers, but don’t go writing them off as a repeat of last season either. There is formidable talent in this Pitt men’s basketball program, and they have nowhere to go but up.

— Andrew Kelly, Staff Writer

A Cowboy’s path to Sainthood

The Dallas Cowboys released polarizing receiver Dez Bryant in the offseason. On the surface, this looked like a good move — dropping an aging and struggling receiver while shedding a bloated contract. However, the Cowboys forgot to put a backup plan into place. Since Bryant left Dallas, the receiving core has been disappointing. Halfway through the 2018 season, the highest receiving yards and touchdown totals come from Cole Beasley with 366 yards and only two touchdowns.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the New Orleans Saints have the NFC’s best record and possess one of the most lethal offenses in the league. Despite having the third-highest scoring offense, the receiving core was a little top-heavy. Michael Thomas is an outstanding wide receiver, but his receiving yardage is roughly the same as all of his fellow receivers combined. Enter Bryant, who signed a one-year contract with the Saints yesterday. He adds another dimension to an already explosive offense as a possession receiver with deadly red-zone abilities.

If Bryant stays healthy, he should be a solid number-two receiver and add another mismatch alongside Thomas. The signing of Bryant is a low-risk, high-reward scenario, as he is third in touchdowns (73) among receivers since 2010. In the arms race of the NFC, the Saints might have notched a quiet but great signing with Dez Bryant.

— Sami Abu-Obaid, Staff Writer

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