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Kentucky loses the season opener to Duke: 4 things to know and postgame processing

Kentucky fought to the bitter end.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Duke Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats dropped their regular season opener to the Duke Blue Devils on Tuesday with a score of 79-71. It was not quite the massacre that we saw in the 2018 Champion’s Classic, but the message remains that the Wildcats have some work to do.

Kentucky was led in points and rebounds by Oscar Tshiebwe with 17 points and 19 rebounds in an outstanding performance. However, the Wildcats did not shoot or defend well enough to keep up with Duke’s potent offense.

Here is what you need to know from Kentucky’s opening night of the 2021-2022 season.

Shooters Shoot

While it felt like Kentucky missed a ton of open looks, the perimeter shooting was pretty solid on Tuesday. In fact, the Wildcats shot MUCH better from the three-point line than they did otherwise.

While I do not expect that to be the case moving forward, being able to shoot over 38% from deep as a team in back-to-back games has to be a good sign for things to come. Once the nerves subside and the chemistry builds, the interior and mid-range game will come around and create a dangerous offensive attack.

Oscar is a Stud

We throw the term “grown man” out a lot when talking about athletes. That is not an exaggeration when talking about Oscar Tshiebwe. Not only did he own the glass and lead Kentucky in points, but he was a force on both ends of the court like nothing we have seen in Lexington in quite some time.

Oscar very well may challenge Julius Randle’s double-double record for a season this year. And here is the thing: he will get better. He can finish better around the basket. He can defend better. He can pass better.

Oscar Tshiebwe has the ability to dominate college basketball this season. And once this team starts to put it all together, that is bad news for everyone not rocking Kentucky blue.

Perimeter Defense Trends Up, Interior Defense Not So Much

A big question after Kentucky’s scare against Miles College was the perimeter defense. While Duke did not appear to be focused on shooting three-pointers, Kentucky was able to hold them to just 7.7% shooting from deep. That is a great number and, regardless of Duke’s game plan, a great sign for this defense moving forward.

However, the Blue Devils got way too many open looks around the basket. Oscar Tshiebwe is a fantastic rebounder, but he was not the rim protector this team needed in Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. And with Daimion Collins and Lance Ware seeing very limited minutes, somebody has to be able to keep the opposition from scoring at will in the paint.

Duke is Legit

I know all Kentucky basketball fans like to hate on Duke, but this is a VERY talented team. They play very well in transition, get to the basket from every position, and have a lot of young and experienced guys that can play.

Even though Kentucky shot poorly from the floor and got abused in the paint, they were still in the game until the very end. Once this Kentucky team has time to play together, gel on defense, and get this rotation figured out, I have no doubt that this team will be just fine.

Now is time to have a short memory, keep working hard, and move on to the next game. What were your thoughts on the 2021 Champion’s Classic?