ACC Network analyst Jason Capel interviewed Jahlil Okafor before Duke’s NCAA Tournament opener against No. 16 Robert Morris last Friday, and Capel couldn’t believe what he was seeing – not just from Okafor, but from other Duke players.
Mostly young Duke players. Mostly freshmen.
“I thought they were nervous,” Capel said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “The young guys – I thought they were nervous in the first matchup with Robert Morris. Okafor . . . seemed nervous. He said he was nervous.”
That nervousness didn’t affect Duke’s play. The Blue Devils beat Robert Morris, 85-56.
“I thought Day 2, when those guys came off the court for warming up and ran back to the locker room, they had a different look in their eyes,” Capel said. “They looked and were saying they’re going to get this thing done quickly against San Diego State.”
Duke won that game, 68-49, with Okafor, Justice Winslow and Quinn Cook combining for 54 points – 26 by Okafor.
The Blue Devils (31-4) play No. 5 Utah (26-8) in the Sweet 16 this Friday at 9:45 p.m. ET.
“They’re a team that’s built to win right now,” Capel said of Duke. “They have an unbelievable competitiveness about them – and I credit that to Quinn Cook. (He’s) a guy that I don’t think gets enough credit. I think he’s had an unbelievable year.”
Cook, a senior, was second in scoring and assists for Duke during the regular season and shot 9-of-18 from three-point range in the first two games of the tournament. Okafor, meanwhile, shot 21-of-27 from the floor and scored 48 points this past weekend, while Winslow combined for 19 points, 23 rebounds, 12 assists, four blocks and four steals.
“Justice Winslow is a guy who just fills up the stat sheet in any way possible,” Capel said. “He can play 1 through 4 – seemingly at any given time – and he’s an excellent defender. Tyus Jones doesn’t turn the ball over, runs the team, makes clutch shots – this team is built to win. I think they’re very confident in themselves, and obviously they have a heck of a coach leading the charge who is hungry for another national championship. I see them moving through this region.”
To do so, Duke will need to beat Utah, which finished second in the Pac-12 – a conference that has three teams in the Sweet 16. The Utes beat Stephen F. Austin and Georgetown to set up their showdown with the Blue Devils.
“I’ll say this,” Capel said. “Utah is a really good team. Delon Wright is a guy who is a lot like Jerian Grant from Notre Dame, who gave Duke fits throughout the regular season and obviously in the tournament.”
Wright had 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists against Duke in the ACC semifinals.
“But I see Duke (winning),” Capel said. “Their mindset right now is one game at a time. They have bigger goals in mind – and that’s the national championship. And I don’t see very much standing in their way.”