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Kentucky Wildcats Morning Quickies: Duke Vs. Kentucky Edition

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In tonight’s Champion’s Classic, Duke and Kentucky will go head-to-head in what could be a preview of the 2019 NCAA Championship game. Here’s hoping it’s as good as advertised.

Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, and welcome to the Tuesday Morning Quickies. Today is that rare day when even the best football season in decades cannot distract the loyal Kentucky fan from the monumental game against the Duke Blue Devils tonight in the Champion’s Classic.

Tonight’s game will largely be a battle of unknown quantities on the college basketball level, especially in games of this magnitude. Kentucky has more experience — PJ Washington, Nick Richards, and Quade Green all played significant minutes in this same event last season against the Kansas Jayhawks in a 61-64 loss.

For Duke in their game against the Michigan St. Spartans, only Javin DeLaurier and Jordan Goldwire saw 10 minutes or more of game time, and while DeLaurier is expected to be a major reserve, Goldwire isn’t expected to see major minutes. Marques Bolden, who also played 9 minutes vs. MSU, is expected to be a significant contributor this season. Alex O’Connell and Antonio Vrankovic also made very brief appearances in that game and are expected to be contributors this season.

But mainly, it’s about the Duke freshmen — Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish, R.J. Barrett and Tre Jones vs the combination of Kentucky’s top freshmen and the sophomore returners.

Kentucky, on paper, would seem to have a small but measurable advantage. UK has better depth, better length at most positions, and more experienced talent. Even the returners from Duke’s team are not that experienced with the exception of Marques Bolden.

Having said that, the Duke team has looked better in the pre-season than Kentucky. Duke has defended the three better, taken care of the ball better, and shot it better than Kentucky against competition for both teams that are markedly inferior to what they both face in practice every day. Kentucky has faced two very disciplined offensive teams, both of which made the Wildcats look a lot less impressive than their pre-season ranking. I can’t speak to Duke’s games since I didn’t see either of them, but Virginia Union is the defending CIAA conference champ of Division II (think Kentucky Wesleyan) and Ferris St. is the Division II reigning champ, and ranked 13th in the pre-season.

I think there are four major storylines in this game:

  • Can Kentucky defend the 3-point shot?
  • Can Duke make open 3-point looks with consistency?
  • Can both teams take care of the basketball and avoid easy transition baskets?
  • Can Kentucky get into Duke’s depth and exploit it?

This figures to be a really high-paced game with both teams preferring quick ball movement and transition to patient probing of the defense. Kentucky has been a poor ballhandling team so far this year, which is typical of them to this point. Post entries from the wings have been particularly weak and mistimed for the Wildcats.

Duke’s 3-point shooting has been good against inferior competition, but with their best shooters in, the Blue Devils suffer from a significant athletic disadvantage. RJ Barrett can make threes at a high level against smaller players, but how will he fare against Kentucky’s longer wings?

Duke has been better taking care of the rock, but has significant question marks about shooting the ball from range that Kentucky, at least on paper, doesn’t have. Kentucky has defended the 3 poorly against execution-style teams this season, but Duke is not that kind of team, so that augers to Kentucky’s advantage.

Transition is going to be excellent from both teams, so the key here is that the team getting into transition more often likely will have an advantage.

Finally, Kentucky has superior depth in terms of talent. If Kentucky can get into Duke’s bench, it’s going to be much harder for the Blue Devils than otherwise, as their drop-off from the starting five is much more significant than Kentucky’s.

I like the Wildcats in this one, but not by a lot. My pick would be 87-85 UK. What’s yours?

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