The two storied programs will face off on November 6 as part of the Champions Classic in Indianapolis. Kentucky seems poised to have a special season, with hopes to hang championship banner No. 9 in the rafters of Rupp Arena.
The staff here at A Sea of Blue have gotten together to share their thoughts on the game. Here is what they had to say:
I think this is going to be a crazy game all around. Duke landed the top 3 ranked players in the 2018 class in Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Cam Reddish as well as top 10 talent Tre Jones. They have a crazy amount of talent but nearly all of it is concentrated in the four freshmen who have yet to see real college action, let alone a team with the talent level Kentucky has.
Kentucky’s team has some pretty talented freshmen of their own. Keldon Johnson seems to be a surefire NBA lottery pick and Immanuel Quickley, Tyler Herro, Ashton Hagans, and EJ Montgomery have all shown what they are capable of in the preseason.
Mixing in the returning veterans, both returners (PJ Washington, Quade Green, and Nick Richards) and graduate transfers (Reid Travis), and this Kentucky squad has talent and experience that Duke might be missing this season.
This is going to be a great game and I know all these guys will be balling out in this game and for the season, but I think Kentucky’s experience will be the key factor. If the Wildcats get solid contributions from their veteran guys I think they win this game.
Prediction: Kentucky 78, Duke 73
John Morgan Francis
The build-up for Kentucky Basketball has been mostly suppressed due to Kentucky football’s stellar 2018 campaign. Football head coach Mark Stoops have stolen the spotlight, starting their season 7-2 with favorable position to end the season at 10-2.
With exceptional football success in the Bluegrass being uncharted waters of recent history, this year’s basketball team has potential to turn the clock back to 2012 and cut down the nets for the ninth time in program history.
A diverse group of talent, from youth and veterans and an assortment of motivated coaches on the staff, will tip-off their season Tuesday night against the Duke Blue Devils.
Head coach John Calipari has had his hands full preparing his Wildcats’ for the three-headed monster in Duke’s front court. The top-three freshman coincidentally will play in a Blue Devils uniform this season, though Calipari’s squad will have depth, experience and versatility on their side.
Though their two pre-season exhibition performances were shaky, the Wildcats’ managed to open as a one-point favorite over the Blue Devils. Considering their edge with veteran players and improved ability to shoot the ball from outside, though, it seems that oddsmakers have the line correct.
This game will surely be a dog-fight between two of the more physical teams in the country. Expect many fouls to be called and the more aggressive team to come out victorious.
Prediction: Kentucky 74, Duke 67
Basketball season is finally here and what a way to kick off the season. A much anticipated matchup between Kentucky and Duke. While Kentucky looked really good in the Bahamas over the summer, they seemed to struggle in two exhibition games, while Duke has looked pretty good.
R.J. Barrett poses a matchup problem for the Wildcats, as does Cam Reddish. But, I don’t know if the Blue Devils have an answer for Reid Travis and his hustle and scrappiness down in the paint.
That being said, I think Duke pulls this one out by a close margin.
Prediction: Duke 77, Kentucky 73
Coach Cal said Sunday that Duke may just be the better team. Does he know something we don’t? Perhaps. Kentucky is loaded with experience this season. PJ Washington, Nick Richards, and Quade Green all look much improved and the team has a grad transfer in Reid Travis who is the ultimate leader. This team should get off to a much better start than the one from a year ago.
However, are they better than Duke? Duke has the three top-rated freshmen in the country, but outside that, lack depth. It’s a fascinating matchup that this early in the season should be a coin flip. While everyone thinks this will be a high-scoring game, I think it ends up being a low-scoring game due to the first-game jitters. I’ll take the Cats thanks to the experience.
Prediction: Kentucky 62, Duke 57
Kentucky fans couldn’t have asked for a better first game. The Duke Blue Devils come in ranked No. 4, with the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class, while the Kentucky Wildcats come in ranked No. 2, with the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class. The difference between these two teams won’t be huge in talent, but rather it’ll be experience, versatility and depth.
R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cam Reddish get all the headlines as the top three recruits in the country. And the Blue Devils also bring in Tre Jones, brother of former Duke basketball player Tyus Jones, who was ranked in the top ten as well. Other than that, they really only have three guys that have played legitimate minutes in college. That’s Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier, and Alex O’Connell.
Bolden and DeLaurier are their big men, but they aren’t great. Barrett, Williamson, and Cam Reddish are all fantastic and will all be selected in the top ten of next year’s NBA Draft. But they all play the same position. All three are small forwards. UK really struggled at times last year because the team was full of guys who all played the same position.
The trio will start and they each bring their own attributes to the table, but they’re very similar. It’ll be hard for them to mold and really spread the floor. UK basically has two players at each position and it doesn’t get much better than that. Listen, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to have to the top three recruits in the country, but it isn’t always easy to get all the pieces together, especially when all three are identical.
One area UK should have a definite advantage in is outside shooting. Jones is a decent shooter, but his job is going to be to get it to the big three. And the rest of the team doesn’t shoot too well besides O’Connell. Barrett is the team’s best player and he’s extremely athletic, but he’s just okay at shooting. Zion is a bricklayer. Reddish is similar to Barrett shooting wise, maybe a little bit better, but he’ll spot up more.
I really think the Cats match up great. I think UK will wear Duke out with their depth. I expect them to press early and often, substituting in fresh players to never let Duke catch their breath. I believe UK will dominate the boards and shoot the ball well. The Wildcats got off to a slow start in their first two exhibition games, but I think they’ll come out ready to play Tuesday. Cats win.
Prediction: Kentucky 81, Duke 73
What more do I need to say other than it’s Kentucky vs Duke, #2 vs #4 to kick off the college basketball season in the Champions Classic.
If the exhibition games showed us anything, it is that the Cats defense is a little lackluster and will have to be much better Tuesday night if they are going to start the season off 1-0.
With that being said, Duke has the better recruiting class, but I think top to bottom, Kentucky has the better team. The depth of the Cats will be a big factor in a lot of games this season and I think the speed we play at as well as the depth will be the biggest difference in this one and will allow the Cats to get off to a good start in the 2018-19 season.
Prediction: Kentucky 86, Duke 78
I can’t imagine a more exciting way to open the college basketball season than with Coach Cal vs Coach K in the Champions Classic. Playing Duke is always special, but meeting the Blue Devils in Game 1 adds even more flare to the matchup.
This time, Duke will bring in a team that is anchored with star freshman to face a bit more seasoned UK team. For that reason, I think any analysis on the game is just guessing. Kentucky has given fans more questions than answers in their first two exhibition games, while nobody really knows how Duke’s young guys will react on one of the biggest stages in NCAA basketball, the Champions Classic.
I believe the matchup to watch will be RJ Barrett and Keldon Johnson. At some point, I expect the two freshmen to go at it and take pride in competing against each other. I know that all of the hype is mostly surrounding Zion Williamson, but RJ Barrett is the guy. He has No. 1 pick potential. Containing Barrett is crucial if Kentucky wants to win this one.
My mantra will be the same for every game: If Kentucky can hit 7-8 threes in a game, I can’t see them losing. So, hopefully Herro and company are draining jumpers.
The only guarantee I can make is that this game will be epic.
This could easily be a preview of a Regional Final, Final Four, or National Championship Game. These two blue bloods do not like each other and neither do their fan bases.
There will be some phenomenal freshman on display, and while most of the focus will be on R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, and the other youngsters, don’t forget about PJ Washington.
I think Washington is going to assert himself from the first game of the season as the alpha on this team. Between PJ and Reid Travis, the Cats front court could average a double-double.
Duke has talent, but I’ll take UK in the opener. Having experienced players like Washington, Travis, and Quade Green will invaluable in the first game of the season. A rematch in March might be a lot closer.
Prediction: Kentucky 79, Duke 67
Fans couldn’t ask for any better opening night to the college basketball season than this year’s Champions Classic in Indianapolis. While No. 1 Kansas faces off against No. 10 Michigan State to start the night, the nightcap is sure to keep everyone watching.
The No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats will matchup with No. 4 Duke in a matchup between blue-blood programs turned one-and-done powerhouses. As much as want to look at the history of these teams or the Hall Of Fame coaches, this game comes down to and has everything to do with the battle between their veterans and their freshman.
For Duke, all eyes will be on the terrific trio of RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Zion Williamson in their official debuts. As amazing as their freshman are, the only real experience they bring back are in Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier. With Kentucky, there’s a better ratio as their 5 talented freshman are joined by 4 experienced members.
The experience is what makes the difference for me. As amazing as Duke’s freshman are, it’s still their first games in college and that leaves at least a few question marks. Kentucky has less question marks because of their experience in Quade Green, Nick Richards, PJ Washington and, especially, Reid Travis.
This game will stay close but although Duke has the edge freshman wise, Kentucky has the edge maturity wise, which will make the difference down the stretch for the Cats.
Prediction: Kentucky 75, Duke 70
Count me in on the idea of having the Champions Classic open up the college basketball season, especially this year. Kentucky vs. Duke and Kansas vs. Michigan State are excellent matchups to draw interest in the college basketball season on opening night.
As for the Kentucky-Duke matchup, it should be a close game, but I’m not sure that any result would shock me, outside of a 20-plus margin blowout on either side.
In the exhibition slate, Kentucky has raised some questions about their defense, and going up against R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Zion Williamson certainly won’t help those concerns. On the other hand, Duke has a lot of inexperience and they are probably still learning to play defense at the collegiate level.
Offensively, Kentucky will need to avoid having a Transy-like performance from the perimeter. Kentucky has to have better guard play from Quickley, Green, and Hagans if they want to win this game.
Ultimately, I think the Wildcats fall but no cause for alarm. This Duke team is really, really good and Kentucky will grow exponentially over the season as March draws near where they will be situated to make a run at a 9th title.
Prediction: Duke 72 — Kentucky 68