9:30 PM EST
Bankers Life Field House (Indianapolis, IN)
ESPN / WatchESPN App
The countdown to the first real action of the season is upon us and its a marquee matchup. The Champions classic brings us a heavyweight fight between Duke and Kentucky. There is no better way to start the college basketball season but previewing this game isn't going to be very easy Kentucky opens as the favorite and perhaps rightly so. Kentucky returns quite a bit from last years team including PJ Washington, Nick Richards and Quade Green. I expect at very least PJ Washington to be in the starting lineup on Tuesday. The Wildcats also bring in a wealth of talent and some experience in transfer Reid Travis. Travis will be a huge factor in what the Wildcats do this season and it all starts with Tuesday night. The Wildcats lost 74.8% of their scoring from last years team and the Blue Devils lost 92.6% making both teams nearly unrecognizable from last season.
Duke opens the season ranked 4th, while Kentucky begins the season ranked 2 behind the Kansas Jayhawks. The Blue Devils also bring in a wealth of talent but will be lacking in game experience with 4 of their 5 starters never having played against a Division I opponent. Duke will start 4 freshmen and either junior Marques Bolden or fellow junior Javin DeLaurier. Duke will go into this matchup with a distinct disadvantage size-wise but the disadvantage may play out differently on the offensive end. If Duke can effectively run its 5-out motion offense it could offset the rebounding advantage that Kentucky (at least on paper) could enjoy. There are several x-factors for both teams in this game and it will be who can shoot well from beyond the arc. Kentucky players have been dropping hints over social media, daring Duke to zone them but with the group that Coach K is currently enjoying, zone does not look the 2-3 zone needs to be the primary defense the Devils employ this year, this game may go a long way towards determining if that is indeed the case.
Kentucky, on paper should shoot better from beyond the arc than they have in previous years with freshman Tyler Herro in the lineup. The key for Herro is whether or not he will be able to effectively get his shot off against the perimeter defenders of Duke. If Duke can contain Herro then Kentucky, at least from beyond the arc, becomes pedestrian at best. Duke also comes into the season with perimeter shooting question marks. They will lean on Cam Reddish in the starting lineup and off the bench sophomore Alex O'Connell is the best 3-point shooting returnee from last year's squad.
The game could come down to several key factors:
- Which team is able to shoot a better percentage from beyond the arc?
- Can Duke "out talent" the Kentucky Wildcats?
- Can Duke stay close to the Wildcats on the boards?
- Will the depth that Kentucky features tire out a limited Duke bench?
- Which team establishes themselves on the defensive end?
DUKE UNIVERSITY PLAYER QUOTES
JUNIOR FORWARD JAVIN DeLAURIER
On the team’s current mood: “We’re really excited for our upcoming matchup against Kentucky on Tuesday. We’re really excited to get the ball rolling. Guys have been working hard in practice trying to get better so that we come out on Tuesday; we’ll be ready.”
On the takeaways from the two exhibition games: “We’ve learned what everyone has kind of speculated, we’re a really talented team, but we are young. We are prone to making some lapses in terms of communication and whatnot. We’ve really shown flashes of potential, which I think is good for guys to see. We have to keep working towards that. We’ve played really hard, which is something that you love to see, especially in a young team.”
On transition defense: “Our transition defense definitely has improved, even from the first exhibition game to the second. That was something that we really struggled in the first time that we stepped out there. Our communication wasn’t good and we weren’t pointing and talking. That’s really been a point of emphasis for us. I’m really proud of how guys have really responded to that.”
On playing in the Champions Classic: “I told the freshmen to prepare for a tremendous atmosphere. It’s a great event for the premier programs in college basketball. It’s always a lot of fun. It’s just really trying to make sure to remember that it’s just a game, and that we’re there to win.”
JUNIOR FORWARD JACK WHITE
On starting the season with a marquee matchup: “Obviously we want to peak in March, but to start off our season like this is a big challenge, as it is for them. I think as a group, we’re just really looking forward to that challenge to kick our season off in the non-conference. I think it will give us a good grasp of where we’re at, at that level especially against them. At the end of the day, we’re just trying to do a good job of taking care of what we can control. We’re coming in and practicing hard as a team, while working on how we can better individually and as a group.”
On the team’s focus: “A lot of it is fundamentals. As a young group, we’re just trying to instill some important habits early so that they can stick with us throughout the year. Obviously we need to talk as a group. I think talking has been a big emphasis for us, especially for the younger guys where it’s not so much of a habit. It’s trying instill that in the guys so that it will help us in the long run.”
On playing on the big stage: “I think it’s a good challenge for the guys. The freshmen have been on stages like that in their career in high school with the McDonald’s All-American Game or the Jordan Brand Classic, or games like those that are big events. Obviously for the upperclassmen, we’ve been on stages like that before. I think with the Canada trip and playing in front of great crowds there, while also being in Cameron for these two exhibition games plus Countdown, I think our guys are ready for that stage. A lot of guys on our team are just gamers. They love that environment and they love stepping up on the big stage. As a group, we’re going to strive on that level.”
On the strengths of this year’s squad: “One of the biggest strengths of our team is our scoring ability. We have guys, especially the freshmen coming in, that can really put points on the board. I think the most important thing for us will be on the defensive end, whether we can get stops. That will create some easy opportunities for us in transition. Especially with our size, length and athleticism, we can really cause a lot of problems for teams. As I’ve said before, we have to have the basic fundamentals of defense like talking, and having guys being in the right spot. That’s going to be a big factor in putting everything together so that we can be successful on that end.”