It’s probably safe to assume that many fans in the Big Blue Nation are a little weary of hearing Duke’s name in anything college basketball-related on the Worldwide Leader of Sports’ (ESPN) programming.
(Hey, at least College Gameday is coming to Lexington for the second time this year for Kentucky’s biggest game of the season to this point? Silver lining? Maybe?)
During a discussion on Wednesday’s edition of High Noon, co-hosts Bomani Jones and Pablo Torre talked about Duke’s miraculous (and somewhat hilarious) comeback against Louisville the night prior after Kentucky’s defeat
even though it was clearly basket interference on the winning putback to LSU on Tuesday night.
Jones went on a little tangent of comparing this year’s Duke side to the 2009-10 Kentucky team that featured John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Patrick Patterson and his words sparked on a light bulb on the top of my head.
Here’s what Jones said on this year’s Duke side:
“The thing for me about Duke is that they are a poor shooting team just on GP. The game they had against Virginia in Charlottesville was an anomaly. They don’t shoot well. They remind me of that 2010 Kentucky team with Wall, Cousins, Bledsoe, Patrick Patterson where ... can you shoot yourself out of the building? That team did not. That team shot 4-for-32 in the Elite Eight round. That’s what I think is ultimately going to happen with Duke ...”
OK, so, I’m going to assume nobody wants to relive the nightmare that was Joe Mazzulla scoring a career-high 17 points and the Mountaineers celebrating in the Carrier Dome in a shocking win over Kentucky almost nine years ago, but Jones has a point here and it’s rather fascinating.
Let’s break that all down a little bit more.
Both teams possess/possessed an absurd level of talent
This year’s Duke side has Zion Williamson (the clear-cut No. 1 pick in this year’s draft), R.J. Barrett (a presumed top-3 pick), Tre Jones (a strong two-way guard that can guard multiple positions better than just about any guard in America) and Cam Reddish (a presumed lottery pick).
Kentucky after the 2009-10 season had John Wall (the clear choice for the No. 1 pick), DeMarcus Cousins (an easy top-5 pick), Eric Bledsoe (the No. 18 pick just outside the lottery) and Patrick Patterson (the No. 14 pick at the end of the lottery) all depart for the NBA. (Add in Daniel Orton at No. 29 and Kentucky became the first school with five players from the same school in the first round.)
So, that’s kinda showing the point, right? Let’s dig a little more.
The numbers tell a similar story between the two
Here’s Kentucky’s overall shooting numbers through that 35-3 season: 47.8 percent overall from the field (17th in NCAA), 54.5 percent from 2-point range (9th), 33.1 percent from 3 (227th), 66.8 percent from the free throw line (243rd) and averaged 79.3 points per game (17th).
Through 24 games this season, here’s what Duke’s averages look like: 48.4 percent overall from the field (25th), 58.5 percent from 2-point range (5th), 31.6 percent from 3 (306th), 68 percent from the stripe (262nd) and 86.1 points per game (5th).
There’s some differences, but you can definitely notice a pattern with both teams: elite-level athleticism and poor 3-point and free throw shooting, which ... sounds like every Calipari-coached team since he’s arrived in Lexington, right? (To be completely fair, this year’s bunch is shooting 74.6 percent from the line this season.)
Their strengths align elsewhere, too. Both led or lead the country in total blocks to this point (273 for UK, 173 for Duke), while Kentucky led the country in total rebounds (1,584) and Duke’s 1,011 total boards right now have them inside the top 15 at 13th.
Kentucky’s defensive rating that season was 91.8, good enough for 15th in the country. Duke’s rating this year as of now is 88.4, currently 4th in the nation. Duke’s got a +3.9 advantage (116-112.1) in the offensive rating department, too, but again, pretty similar between the two teams.
Duke’s had seven games so far where they shot 40 percent from 3 or better (including the absurd 13-of-21 performance against Virginia that Jones referenced). Kentucky had 11 such games, including five games where they hit 10+ triples. (Duke has eight of those such games.)
Each team has/had three games where they attempted 30+ shots from long range. Kentucky went 2-1 in those games. Duke is also 2-1 this season, including their loss to Syracuse where they shot 43 (!!) 3s.
What’s wild: Duke has two guys (Barrett and Reddish) averaging over six (!) triples attempted per game. Kentucky’s squad only had one guy shoot more than four a game and that was Dodson, who took 4.1 a game and shot 34.7 percent on the season.
Duke’s main four is averaging 67.2 points per contest as a unit, while Kentucky’s quartet averaged a shade over 57 points per game. (Shouts to 2011 SEC Tournament MVP Darius Miller, too.)
Coming back around to Jones’ main point here, what he was saying is, for all the talent Duke has (just like Calipari’s first team at Kentucky), it’s going to be hard for a bad shooting team to survive six straight games in March and into early April, and he’s correct.
And in all actuality, it’s a fair comparison between the two teams and something to keep an eye on, especially if say ... we get Duke-Kentucky II in the second weekend next month or later? Hint, hint, wink, wink.
(Also, last thing: how fun would a matchup between these two specific teams be if it was possible?)