With Duke’s star-studded (a relative term) lineup having caught a hot start to the college season, many people have begun to ask the age-old question which can never be answered: Could (the best college team in a sport) beat (the worst professional team in a sport)?
We heard it last year. “Could Alabama beat the Browns?” More recently, it’s been “Could Alabama beat the Bills?” The rise of Duke’s abnormally stacked and athletic Big 3 of Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish, and RJ Barrett have people wondering if this Duke roster could beat the 2-14 Cleveland Cavaliers, the team with the worst record and biggest talent deficit in the NBA.
The short answer, no matter what teams are in the equation, and no matter which sport, is simple: No. The long answer, in case you need elaboration, is still simple: Noooooooooooooooooooooooooo. Anyone who understands either college sports or professional sports (you don’t even need to understand both) will know that this is an unfathomably stupid talking point for a multitude of reasons. For one, it will never happen. No professional team would bother playing in a match like that, and the rules around amateurism would make it complicated for any player with hopes to continue playing in college to partake, effectively defeating the purpose. Secondly, there is no way on Michael Jordan’s green earth that any college team could beat the Cavaliers, even without star forward Kevin Love.
First. a disclaimer: Duke is good. No one is doubting that. But they could go undefeated through the whole season and NCAA tournament, winning each game by 10 or more, and this discussion would still be a waste of time. And Duke isn’t even doing that. They lost to Gonzaga in a stunning display of the team’s vulnerability when they struggle to engage their do-it-all point forward Williamson. So unless Gonzaga is secretly playing NBA veterans against Duke, this conversation is already moronic.
Second of all, the rules are different and this is impossible to ignore, even if you played the theoretical grudge match in NCAA rules, just to give Duke an edge. One, the pace of NBA games is much, much higher. The 30 second shot clock, and a full 30 after an offensive rebound, would give the Cavaliers all kinds of time to work against a defense that would be like traffic cones compared to even the worst defensive NBA teams. Another obvious rule change is the 3-point line being significantly closer. Against shoddy perimeter defense, the closer 3-point line would make Cedi Osman and even an ancient Kyle Korver look like Splash Brothers. And on the off-chance that they miss from time to time, Tristan Thompson would be eating 18-year-old’s for breakfast getting offensive rebounds, giving even more chances for easy 3’s with no time crunch. Easy board, with nearly double the clock time to re-rack and run another play.
The final and most obvious reason Duke couldn’t beat Cleveland is the way professional sports drafts work. While the 3 Duke freshmen may all end up going in the top 5 of the 2019 draft, most of the players on that Duke roster won’t even end up in the G League. Moreover, nearly every single person on every pro-sports team was once the hottest player on their respective college teams, who then went on to have multiple years of full-time training and experience against nothing short of the stiffest basketball competition the world has to offer. The idea that a couple of bright-eyed kids could use their youthful athleticism to overcome the collective decades of experience and training that any pro team has to offer is cute, to put it nicely. This is why the context and sport do not matter at all. The best college team will never beat the worst professional teams. Even the Browns, for example, have the best quarterback and a Heisman winner from a stacked draft. The cream of the crop coming out of college end up going to the worst teams most of the time. There is a reason you never expect rookies to be in the MVP conversation right away. As good as they may be, their talent needs refinement, repetition, and most importantly, trial and error.
To put this idiotic topic to bed, think about the last draft. The No.1 pick from the 2018 draft went to Phoenix in Deandre Ayton, who’s team is a stunning…3-14, for the second worst record in the NBA. Even then, the Suns are only surviving off of the seasoned young man Devin Booker. Without him, Phoenix would be the worst team in the league and we’d be talking about Duke beating the Suns instead of the Cavs. To think that the Duke 3, even if you believe they are all similarly as talent as Ayton was at Arizona which is arguable, you’re still talking about someone that highly regarded making nearly no difference in the pros. So if you genuinely, believe that 3 potential early lottery picks would be enough to take a team from the bottom to anything noticeably better, you might just also be stupid enough to believe that the Cavaliers could lose to Duke, when Duke wasn’t even good enough to beat Gonzaga.