by Cam Smith ’21
The name Zion Williamson has ruled over national headlines for the past two years, as the basketball prodigy went from dominating high school gymnasiums to hushing hostile crowds in the NCAA. With his top-seeded Duke University Blue Devils poised to make a run at the National Championship, it would seem reasonable to pencil in Williamson as the tournament’s most outstanding player. The only issue is that Williamson already shares the court with the man who will win the Most Outstanding Player award, and his name is R.J. Barrett.
Barrett entered his collegiate career as a number one recruit, and he lived up to that billing even in a season where he was often overshadowed by the high-flying antics of his Blue Devil teammate. Barrett led Duke in scoring, averaging 22.9 points per game while grabbing 7.5 rebounds per game, second only to Williamson. Barrett set an ACC record for 20-or-more-point games, compiling a whopping 23 of them while also being the only player in a power conference to average more than 20 points, seven rebounds, and four assists.
His regular season dominance was capped off with a stretch of jaw-dropping performances to end the ACC schedule, games that were played without Williamson, who was out due to a knee injury. Barrett dropped 33 points on the University of North Carolina on Feb. 20, and three days later, he followed that up with a 30-point performance in a win against Syracuse University. He would go on to average 26.1 points in the six games without Williamson.
In the tournament, teams will likely focus in on Williamson, sending double teams his way, allowing Barrett to use his off-ball ability to get open lanes to the basket where he is a talented finisher. The return of Williamson will also take the pressure off Barrett on the boards, permitting him to get out in transition quicker, which will play to his strengths as a masterful runner of the fast break. All of these factors will likely contribute to some tremendous performances by Barrett, even though he has already proven he can put up big numbers without the presence of his esteemed teammate.
Barrett led Duke in scoring a team high 19 times, and on the best team in the country, he is going to have plenty of chances to continue to do just that as Duke plans on making a deep run. Everything considered, Barrett will add yet another accolade to his résumé after winning the NCCA Tournament Most Outstanding Player award.