Well, it felt a little bit like March in November at times, but at the end of the day, it was a lot more like November in November as the Duke Blue Devils defeat the Kentucky Wildcats in the Champions Classic.
Congratulations to Duke, who absolutely earned this victory. They did what mature teams do and executed both on offense and defense. Watching this game, there was never really any doubt which team was the more mature. Duke played the same kind of game they always do, heavy on 3-point shots, but Mason Plumlee was terrific for the Blue Devils in every way. I was hoping Duke would be a little less polished than they were, but alas.
Kentucky, I think, did exactly what they were expected to do in this game by most people -- lose. Let's be honest, this Wildcats team is not yet ready for prime time, and there is really no reason why they should be. Last year's Kentucky team that won the national title had nothing like this kind of difficulty in their early season games, let alone back-to-back, and they were far more mature than the current iteration of the Wildcats. The bottom line is, Kentucky lost, and they deserved to lose. Period.
Let's move on to our observations:
- Alex Poythress grew up a bit tonight. He played much more under control, scored inside and out, and terrified Duke on the offensive glass with 5 offensive rebounds, most of them for thunderous dunks. Poythress scored 20 points and had 8 rebounds. Game ball.
- Nerlens Noel was very good tonight, and showed many of the things that you don't expect him to bring to the floor. He had 4 steals and probably created 2 more, had 3 blocks, 8 rebounds, 16 points and only 1 turnover. The amazing thing is, he is much, much better than this.
- Archie Goodwin did a lot of good. He also did a lot of bad. He was not a very good point guard tonight, but he was decent at initiating the offense. My personal view is that he did not attack the basket enough, especially considering the size and athletic advantages he had. Still, not bad: 16 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 turnovers and 1 block.
- Julius Mays, I thought, played a very immature game for him. He took bad shots, made bad decisions, and generally did not have his best game all the time. But he wasn't awful and did have 7 points and 3 assists, although that goes with 4 turnovers.
- Jarrod Polson did about what you'd expect. He had 1 turnover and 1 rebound, but he took care of the ball and didn't get burned much on defense except for one play where he got picked off. As a backup point guard, he was serviceable, and that's all I'd ever really ask of him.
- Willie Cauley-Stein did not have a good game. He never seemed comfortable, he was always biting on fakes, and he simply didn't play to the level that we have seen up until now. In short, he was a freshman. 4 points, no rebounds, 1 turnover.
- Kyle Wiltjer was a non-factor for his age and experience. If I had to point to one reason why we did not win this game, I would point to Wiltjer's ineffectiveness. Wiltjer had 5 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists. That is not what we need to see from him. But it's early, so I think he's entitled to a bad game or two.
Overall, this team showed why John Calipari has been setting the Big Blue Nation up for a loss -- they just aren't a top ten team right now, let alone top five. I was hoping that we'd have more development as far as execution was concerned, and make no mistake, we did see some improvement, but the Wildcats just didn't bring the level of play needed to defeat a team as mature as Duke is.
Credit Duke for being where they are supposed to be at this point. Take away the fact that if this game were held in March, the Blue Devils would be facing long odds against this UK team, they played really well tonight overall. Even with the failure of execution and poor overall play, the Wildcats were in this game all the way to the end.
And finally, credit the Big Blue Nation for turning the Georgia Dome the right color of Blue and White. I was very impressed by what we saw from the Big Blue Nation tonight. There will be other big games, and I like our chances in them after we have a chance to get used to this level of play.