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Kentucky vs. Duke: Champions Classic Game Thread

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“I always believe that the sky is the beginning of the limit.” - MC Hammer.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky Media Day
Just a couple of sweet young dudes.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE

Jemarl Baker is out tonight due to swelling in his knee. He’s now missed the first two exhibition games and the regular-season opener.

The game is set to tip off on ESPN. Go here if you need an online streaming link.


IT’S TIME, Y’ALL.

So much has happened in the 229 days since your Kentucky Wildcats last played a meaningful basketball game.

Ardent reports of John Calipari as ex-master recruiter were doused in the flammable blobfish tears of Pat Forde, Pete Thamel, Bobby Knight, along with those of other querulous dillweeds, and set aflame.

In April, Cal & Co. snatched EJ Montgomery from Coach K’s long Count Chocula clutches, and landed commitments from 2 of the top 3 ‘19 PGs (Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey), one of whom (Hagans) reclassified to 2018.

Then came the Bahamas trip, during which the ‘Cats were nothing short of dominant. Dominant enough that the dominance was a reasonable catalyst for most of us increasing our expectations for this group.

The exhibitions against Transy and IUP gave certain sections of BBN the jitters, but I viewed those simply as lineup experimentation exercises for the coaching staff.

And here we are, with the ‘Cats as a near-consensus Final Four contender. Opening the season against another popular Final Four pick, the Duke Blue Devils.

SOME TAKES

I’m sure you’re mostly take-d out at this point, so I’ll try to make mine brief (LOL, amirite?) and, to a point, stray from the narratives we’ve seen already — depth will determine tonight’s winner. Stay with me...

While Duke inarguably has more talent at the top of its roster (I’ve never seen a more talented top 3 on a roster than R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Zion Williamson), it’s equally impossible to dispute that UK is deeper. From that perspective, UK has the clear advantage.

However, UK’s depth can be considered a hindrance here, in the first game of the season. Given the multitude of lineup possibilities that the depth presents, it seems nearly impossible that the coaching staff can have those configurations perfected in a way to optimize the depth early.

As I mentioned previously, Cal was clearly experimenting with lineups and substitutions throughout both scrimmages. Only he and the team know if he has a concrete plan that he’s confident in at this point, but very few lineup questions were answered from this writer’s perspective.

Conversely, Krzyzewski has known for some time now that he’s going to trot out the 4 freshmen, along with Marques Bolden, to start the game. Further, K knows the talent of his “depth,” as his primary bench players are all upperclassmen, with the exception of Alex O’Connell, a sophomore who is one-dimensional (perimeter shooting) enough that K won’t have to execute any mental gymnastics to know when he needs inserted into the contest.

That said, while I think Duke’s freshmen (3 of which will be top 4 draft picks next June) will give UK a scare early and often (and maybe even take a 10-15 point lead), I think the ‘Cats will outlast the Blue Devils by a point or two. As far as my confidence level on that, though, I’ll say that I won’t be wagering any amount of money on the outcome.

The most likely keys to victory?

For Duke, it’s making sure that its superstars can do enough that the rest of the crew only needs to contribute solid defense and ~20-25 points. Because that’s the supporting cast’s ceiling at this point, to me. This means the stars must avoid foul trouble, not overexert themselves early, etc.

For Kentucky, it’s being able to find a rhythm on offense and being able to weather the quick offensive barrages that Barrett, Williamson, and Reddish are inevitably going to produce.

“TUNES” AND MENU

My soundtrack for this momentous night will be the following: Reflections of a Floating World by Elder (doom with a groove!), FM! by Vince Staples (he gets better every time), The Blue Mask by Lou Reed (just finished the Anthony DeCurtis biography and this is my favorite Lou), and Rock N Roll Consciousness by Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth FTW).

On the menu is glorious wife-made macaroni and cheese, with all-beef hot dogs added. Ho ho ho!

LET’S BE FRIENDS/FOR FUNSIES

Anyway, let this post serve as your hub for all-things-college-basketball chatter this evening. Let’s enjoy the Champions Classic together.

If you want, post your projected starting lineup, as well as game and season predictions below.

FOR FUNSIES II (I JUST DRANK A LOT OF COFFEE AND NEVER DRINK COFFEE)

Here is the 2018-2019 All-Kris Dunn Team, which consists of my favorite non-Cats.

  • Herb Jones (G/Alabama/Sophomore)
  • Jericho Sims (F/Texas/Sophomore)
  • Lindell Wigginton (G/Iowa State/Sophomore)
  • Caleb Martin (SF/Nevada/Senior)
  • Bol Bol (C/Oregon/Freshman)
  • Ja Morant (PG/Murray State/Sophomore)
  • Jaylen Hoard (F/Wake Forest/Freshman)
  • Ky Bowman (PG/Boston College/Junior)
  • Juwan Morgan (F/Indiana/Senior)
  • Noah Dickerson (PF/Washington/Senior)
  • Markus Howard (G/Marquette/Junior)
  • De’Andre Hunter (G/Virginia/Sophomore)
  • Charles Matthews (G/Michigan/Junior)
  • Kamar Baldwin (G/Butler/Junior)

In the meantime...MORE CRAP TO READ

ASoB’s hub for the game.

Mark Story’s preview and prediction at the LH-L are worth your time.

Jon Hale ponders whether our new guys have something to prove against Duke’s.

Here (and here and here) are several worthwhile Duke basketball season previews, so that you know what the ‘Cats are up against.

The Chronicle, Duke’s student newspaper, made a pair of interesting choices for the x-factor participants in the contest.

OKAY BYE