Just over a week from today, the Kentucky Wildcats and Duke Blue Devils will face off in the Champions Classic.
With the monster matchup of blue bloods drawing closer, we’re taking a look at three of the biggest storylines surrounding the game.
The “Good Guy” narrative of Duke finally is changing
There are those moments in sports where everything comes together perfectly and gives fans a dream game. That being said, I cannot think of a more exciting way to open the season than with Kentucky facing Duke in the Champions Classic.
Not just because of the well-documented history between the two programs, but also due to the current culture and attention surrounding NCAA basketball. Coach K’s 2018-2019 Duke team, with the top three ranked freshman, has a close makeup to some of John Calipari’s “one and done” teams of the past.
This time, it will be the inexperience of the Blue Devils going against a more seasoned Wildcat team, that includes multiple returning starters and graduate transfer Reid Travis.
The narrative has always been that the “one and done” mentality was mostly harbored by Coach Cal and the University of Kentucky. While this is true in many forms, it also isn’t fair that Duke has thus far managed to avoid this perception, even though they have participated just as much as any other program.
I believe the commitments of RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cam Reddish will finally change this narrative and force the college basketball world to accept that Coach K is willing to do whatever it takes to fill out his team with the best possible players, even if that means adding kids that are clearly only interested in staying on campus for one year.
Cats have their hands full with Duke’s freshman
There is no denying that the Blue Devils have added some serious firepower to the roster with freshman RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish, and Tre Jones. All four of these guys were five-star recruits and made up one of the best classes in history. Duke has a pre-season ranking of #4 and impressed in their first exhibition game beating Virginia Union by a score of 106-64, then beat Ferris State, 132-48.
I am a huge believer in the hype of of RJ Barrett and think he has #1 overall pick potential. Don’t forget that the last time Barrett saw Coach Calipari it was in Egypt when he led team Canada to an upset win over team USA in the FIBA semifinals.
Barrett dominated with 38 points and pretty much won the game by himself. So, it will be important for Kentucky to understand that RJ Barrett is good enough to take over the game if he is allowed the space to do so.
On the flip side, having lock-down defenders like Ashton Hagans and Keldon Johnson should give Calipari the flexibility to throw multiple looks on Barrett to slow him down.
Zion Williamson was internet famous before he even arrived on campus at Duke. But his name has been in the news even more over the past few months. His weight has been brought into question during the pre-season, and recently, Williamson was even mentioned in the FBI trial in the context of a possible “pay for play” scheme.
Coach K made it very clear that Williamson has been vetted by the NCAA and will not miss any time based off the allegations brought to light in the FBI trial. Williamson has proved his worth at every available opportunity, including the recent exhibition games where he poured in 29 points vs. Virginia Union, then went for 23 vs. Ferris State.
It would serve Kentucky well to not underestimate him but rather game-plan for any identified weaknesses. Maybe above all, do not let him get any highlight dunks, which could result in a momentum shift in the Blue Devils favor.
Kentucky should own the paint
A priority for Kentucky in the Champions Classic should be to take advantage of their talented front-court. The combination of Reid Travis, Nick Richards, Washington, and EJ Montgomery should be a clear step-above Duke’s big-men.
Cats fans probably remember Marques Bolden, who was once a Kentucky recruit that ended up at Duke. Well, three years later, he has not quite developed into the player that many thought he would, and I now perceive him as more of liability than an asset. Coach Cal will for sure be looking to exploit any weaknesses that he can and owning the paint should be a good place to start.
UK should have a distinct advantage down low with not only size but experience as well. This game makes adding a player like Reid Travis even more exciting.
Is is Nov 6th yet? This is going to be one legendary regular-season game.