Preview and prediction: Duke vs. Kentucky
Duke vs. Kentucky preview
Date: Tuesday, Nov. 17
Game Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Venue: United Center, Chicago, Ill.
Why You Need To Care
It's the Champions Classic. What kind of college basketball fan wouldn't want to watch two mammoth programs go head-to-head? It should almost be ingrained in your DNA. When Duke and Kentucky are in the same venue, your eyes should be glued to the game.
Aside from that, this could very well be a preview of the national championship game. Mike Krzyzewski won his fifth national title with the Blue Devils last season. Coach K captured the championship against the team that ended the Wildcats' perfect season: Wisconsin. Had it not been for Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and the rest of the Badgers, it very easily could have been an all-blue-and-white matchup.
Both Coach K and John Calipari have mastered the craft of utilizing one-and-done freshmen. And both are taking full advantage of them this season. It's going to be a battle of Duke's diaper dandies against Kentucky's young cats.
Why Duke Will Win
More often than not, scoring a lot is generally going to put you in a good position to win the game. It's kind of a given. The Blue Devils know how to drop that biscuit in the basket. They've scored 205 points in the first two games combined and are shooting 49.6 percent from the field. If Duke is going to win, it's going to be because of simple makes and misses from the perimeter. These two teams are eerily similar statistically, but we're also only two games into the season, so we're cursed by a small sample size. But one area Duke shines is from behind the arc. The Blue Devils are shooting 37.3 percent from deep compared to Kentucky's 28.9 percent. Some penetration by Derryck Thornton and Grayson Allen, a few extra passes here and there to put the Wildcat defense on skates, and Duke will get some solid looks from three-point range.
Why Kentucky Will Win
The Wildcats are going to need to channel their inner Southeastern Conference nature in order to beat Duke. I'm talking defense ... I mean, defend like they've never defended before. Albany and NJIT combined to shoot 18.2 percent from three against Kentucky, but Duke has shooters. Jamal Murray, Tyler Ulis, Isaiah Briscoe and the gang are going to need to shoot passing lanes, anticipate rotations, and close out on shooters in order to force some transition opportunities and let the big guys (Skal Labissiere and Marcus Lee) get out and run. Both teams crash the offensive glass hard, but keeping Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee boxed out will be a big piece of the puzzle.
Players Who Matter
Grayson Allen is going to be the difference maker for Duke all year. The 6-foot-4 sophomore guard opened up the first two games with 26 points and 28 points against Siena and Bryant, respectively. Yes, that level of competition isn't quite up to par with that of Kentucky, but Allen should not be taken lightly. He and Brandon Ingram, who is of the Jabari Parker mold, are going to be big-time playmakers for Coach K. In those first two games, Ingram combined for 36 points. The two of them will score the basketball at a high rate, and it'll be interesting to see them go up against Kentucky's Jamal Murray and Derek Willis — just to name a couple.
Kentucky needs -- I mean absolutely needs -- Labissiere to play big. That doesn't mean he needs to drop 20-plus points, but it surely would help. He needs to take up a lot of space. Marshall Plumlee (7-feet, 255 lbs) will match up with him physically. Labissiere needs to occupy space down low to create room for Murray and Isaiah Briscoe to penetrate. If Marcus Lee can do the same to Jefferson, the Wildcats will find themselves with some easy buckets and putback opportuntiies. Briscoe, specfically, will need to elevate his play. He missed the first game against Albany, but poured in 11 points aginat NJIT off the bench. If he supplies some instant offense off the bench, that could be the difference.
What's Going To Happen?
Picking between the two of them is like pulling teeth, but in the end, Duke is going to come out on top. Plumlee is going to give Labissiere a hard time down low, and Allen will have another scoring outburst for the Blue Devils. Duke hauls in 44.3 percent of available offensive boards, and Plumlee and Jefferson are a big reason why with an average of 10 offensive rebounds per game between the two of them. Coach K is 5-1 against Kentucky, and Duke is 3-1 in the Champions Classic. Kentucky won't be able to match the perimeter shooting by the Blue Devils, but Murray will help keep the 'Cats in the game with a big scoring contribution.
Duke vs. Kentucky Prediction
Robert Judin: Duke 91, Kentucky 85
Jordan Cornette: Duke 88, Kentucky 84
MORE: Preseason College Basketball Top 25 Rankings