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Everything you need for Wildcats vs. Blue Devils to tip off the new season.

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Kentucky Wildcats vs. Duke Blue Devils


This is it.

The one we’ve all been waiting for.

Kentucky Wildcats vs. Duke Blue Devils in Madison Square Garden to open the college basketball season is as good as it gets for hoops junkies.

After a miserable 9-16 campaign, the Cats simply couldn’t have a better opportunity to remind America that last season was a complete fluke.

The match-up is set to tip off Tuesday night at 9:30 pm ET and will feature two top-10 teams. The preseason rankings have the Blue Devils ranked ninth with Kentucky right on their heels at 10th.

If at all possible, get a nap on Tuesday afternoon or attempt to make adjustments that allow for a little extra sleep on Wednesday morning.

Obviously, UK provided plenty of reason for concern during in their lackluster performance against Division II Miles College on Friday. If we see another stretch of basketball like the first half of that exhibition game then the Cats are toast against Duke.

Point, blank, period.

But on the flip-side maybe a wake-up call before the playing some much improved competition will end up as a net positive for Calipari’s completely revamped roster.

Now in its eleventh year, the Champions Classic has taught us that an on-time tip-off for the second game, which Kentucky seemingly always plays in, is a pipe dream. Not to mention the anticipated theatrics of kicking off Coach K’s farewell season. I’d imagine ESPN will do some form of video tribute or something similar for the legendary college basketball icon.

Mike Krzyzewski is slated to hand over the Blue Devil program to assistant coach and former player, Jon Scheyer, at the end of the 2021-2022 season.

You’ll get plenty of jabber about the Duke coaching transition so let’s move on.

Unfortunately another frequently brought up topic on Tuesday night is sure to be reminiscing on the last time that Coach Cal and Coach K faced off in the Champions Classic.

I probably don’t need to remind you that the Cats were beaten like a drum back in 2018 inside Indy’s Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The 118-84 loss to Zion and the Dukies was one of the low points of the Calipari era and absolutely not something that anyone wants to see replicated in the Garden.

But this isn’t 2018, and it’s probably fair to assume that most players on both rosters don’t really remember the details of that contest like fans do.

This year’s Blue Devil squad is led by freshman phenom power forward Paolo Banchero from Seattle. I saw Banchero play when he was a junior in high school, and he’s a complete man-child on the court.

Even in a high-level Division I game, you can still count on Banchero having a considerable advantage in the paint. He’s also extremely versatile and a capable scorer on the perimeter.

Banchero dominated Duke’s only exhibition game by scoring 21 points and yanking down nine rebounds in only 20 minutes of playing time.

Duke would go on to win that game against Winston-Salem State by a score of 106-38, quite the opposite showing when you compare it to Kentucky being down at the half to Miles College.

Banchero’s supporting cast is littered with elite talent as well. Many of the players also held a Kentucky offer but ultimately ended up in Durham for one last ride with Coach K.

Trevor Keels and Jeremy Roach will handle the bulk of the back-court responsibilities for Duke.

Roach, a sophomore guard, was once seen as a heavy Kentucky lean before injuring his knee in high school and changing directions with his career. He had 10 points and seven assists in their exhibition blowout.

Keels on the other hand was a long shot for Calipari to sign considering how late UK was to get involved. The former 5-star combo guard has the ability to take over a game if allowed. I predict Keels will be getting very familiar with UK point guard Sahvir Wheeler if necessary.

Early on Wheeler’s on-ball defense has been utterly incredible and a major reason why Kentucky didn’t suffer a historically embarrassing loss on Friday night.

Next up for Duke we have one of their team captains, Wendell Moore Jr.

The junior forward has showed signs of steady improvement in his first two seasons in Durham. With several key Blue Devils having little to no experience, Wendell Moore Jr’s resume of 49 starts could play a pivotal role in the game.

Interior defense has already emerged as a potential thorn in this Kentucky team’s side.

What happens if Oscar Tshiebwe gets in foul trouble?

That’s a question most members of the Big Blue Nation aren’t prepared to answer.

Duke’s 7-foot center Mark Williams is a proven big man and will be a load in the paint. Over the final 14 games of last season, Williams led his team in rebounding, field goal percentage and blocked shots.

Attacking Williams with a committee approach may be Cal’s best option. Tshiebwe, Ware, Brooks and Collins are all likely to get their shot at guarding Duke’s interior threats.

The Blue Devils’ senior sharp-shooter, Joey Baker, will be the one to watch out for on the perimeter. In the 2019-2020 he shot near 40% from three.

Duke’s wildcard in this one will be freshman forward AJ Griffin. Another former 5-star recruit that UK pursued, Griffin suffered a knee injury in early October that was projected to sideline him 4-6 weeks. However, he played in the exhibition win and chipped in 10 points off the bench.

Griffin was once a top-10 recruit before injuries led to him falling down the rankings, but make no mistake that he’s a dynamic forward who could make a major impact in this one if UK doesn’t come prepared.

No matter how things go in the Champions Classic we will learn a lot about this Kentucky team on Tuesday night. How they play in a nationally televised game in the most famous sports venue in the entire world will tell us a hell of a lot more than a home exhibition game against a Division II opponent.

Calipari’s roster has a unique make-up this year in the fact that we still really don’t know who will emerge as the star. It seems like TyTy Washington is poised to be the Cats’ “best” player, but there are still so many directions the statistical breakdown could go.

I believe you could legitimately name five to six players on this team who could lead Kentucky in scoring against Duke and nobody would be very surprised by that result.

One player I will be keeping my eye on is freshman forward Daimion Collins. The jury is still out on whether or not Collins will be ready to contribute much this season or if he is a true multi-year project that will play very limited minutes this season.

If Collins can get a little meaner and find a groove, his athleticism could prove to be a game-changer over the duration of a long season with a team that is seemingly thin in the front-court.

Calipari is sure to experiment with different line-ups considering it’s Game 1. But we’ll have a much better sense of whom he wants on the floor when it matters.

Even though it’s certain to provide some cringe moments, it’ll still be neat to square off against a legendary college basketball coach as he begins his final season.

Don’t forget about taking that nap on Tuesday afternoon if you can make it happen.

Win or lose, emotions will run high on Tuesday when Kentucky and Duke slug it out in the Champions Classic inside Madison Square Garden. But more importantly, it’s time to celebrate the return of normal college basketball following last season’s restricted campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now that the new season is officially here, go follow our Twitter page and ‘like’ our Facebook page for the latest Kentucky Wildcats news and views. And as always, Go Cats!