If you're a Duke Blue Devil fan, or just a general fan of college basketball, the shadow superstar Zion Williamson casts over this season remains large. No one knows this more than sophomore point guard Tre Jones.
Jones was the main ball-handler for Duke's team last season — a team loaded with first-round NBA draft picks Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish. Williamson highlighted that group of three as he was last season's Player of the Year and the No. 1 overall pick.
Jones is also the point guard for this year's Duke team that offers another potential first-round NBA draft pick and Player of the Year candidate — Vernon Carey Jr. Carey, like Zion, wears No. 1 and is a lefty from the Southeast. He's one of the leading candidates in the National Player of the Year race but at least one fellow Blue Devil thinks he's not getting the plaudits he deserves.
"I feel like if those guys [Williamson, Barret and Reddish] weren't here last year and it was just another normal recruiting class, and Vernon came in this year and having the year he is having, I feel like he would be getting that attention and would be getting talked about as the National Player of the Year," Jones told Andy Katz on the latest episode of the March Madness 365 podcast.
Jones' interview with Katz begins at about the 7:40 mark. Seton Hall guard Myles Powell and NCAA Selection Committee Chair Kevin White also join this week's pod.
Carey is fourth in the ACC in points per game (17.5), third in the conference in rebounds per game (8.9) and is the star player on one of the best teams in the country. He also leads the team in blocks with 1.5 per game.
"He knows he has to just keep playing, keep dominating how he has been and how he knows he can be," Jones said. "We got to keep playing off of him and winning. I really think winning sets you all up for winning those awards."
Carey anchors Duke's defense and leads the team in blocks with 1.5 per game.
"I mean last year, the athleticism we had, it seemed like we could fall asleep on plays and we're able to recover," Jones told Katz. "This year we all know we have to be locked in. We all have to have each other's backs on the defensive end or else we will get exposed."
Now on a six-game winning streak, the Blue Devils are fresh off of one of their best weeks of the season. They escaped Chapel Hill with a thrilling overtime victory over their rival North Carolina, led by Jones' 28 points, and came back to Durham two days later to hold off ACC contender No. 8 Florida State 70-65.
FSU is the last ranked team remaining on the Blue Devils' regular-season schedule. They now have a clear path to land a top seed in the ACC tournament. Louisville is the only team ahead of Duke in the conference at 12-1, followed by the Blue Devils at 11-2.
Duke's next game is Saturday, Feb. 15, at home against Notre Dame.