More Experienced Kentucky Step Ahead of Duke in Champions Classic

Rainman M.

Friday, November 2, 2018 12:10 PM UTC

Friday, Nov. 2, 2018 12:10 PM UTC

No. 2 Kentucky plays No. 4 Duke on Tuesday evening in the season-opening Champions Classic in Indianapolis. The Cats will come out ahead in a matchup between national title favorites.

No. 4 Duke vs. No. 2 KentuckyTuesday, Indianapolis, 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)Free NCAAB Pick: Kentucky ATSBest Line Offered: BetOnline

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Duke

Duke’s starting lineup will likely feature four "one-and-done" freshmen, each of whom is expected to move onto the NBA after this season. Shooting guard R.J. Barrett, power forward Zion Williamson, small forward Cam Reddish, and point guard Tre Jones were five-star recruits. Continuity is expected at center, where upperclassmen Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier will rotate. With the departure of Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter, Duke’s post game suffers a downgrade in quality. This year’s Duke team won’t rely to the same degree on dumping the ball into the post. Moreover, with the departure of Gary Trent, Duke lost its most accurate three-point shooter, who they could rely on to drain threes from the perimeter and score in a hurry. For example, he knocked down six threes when Duke rallied from a double-digit second-half deficit to beat Miami on January 15. So, Duke will be less of a three-point shooting team.

This year’s Duke seems to be predicated on tempo—on getting up the court— and driving to the basket. Tre Jones was the nation's no. 1 point guard prospect. He describes himself as more of a defender, and as someone who is more inclined to attack the paint. He’s also been widely praised for his basketball IQ. Whether he’s smart or not, veteran guard Grayson Allen isn’t around anymore for Coach K to fall back on while he transitions to the college game. Shooting guard R.J. Barrett was the top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2018. Last year, he was Gatorade Player of the Year. The 6“7 Barrett is known for moving quickly up and down the court with his long strides. His long wingspan helps him on defense and on the glass, where he averaged 8.5 rebounds per game last year. He’s a strong passer who excels at driving to the basket. Small forward Cam Reddish is described as someone with point-guard skills because of his ability to push the ball up the court and beat his defender off the dribble. Lastly, power forward Zion Williamson is strong around the rim. He averaged 11.4 rebounds per game in high school. Williamson can also play up-tempo and shoot from the perimeter.

Duke’s freshmen are generally described as positionless because of their versatility, which is evident in their ability to fulfill functions normally performed by players of other positions. The talent is immense, but the product will need time for polishing. Duke is already favored at +500 to win it all.

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Kentucky

Kentucky’s team is relatively experienced. Shooting guard Quade Green and power forward P.J. Washington return as sophomores. Center Reid Travis comes as a graduate transfer from Stanford. His backup Nick Richards is also a sophomore. He was ultimately a non-factor last year, but he may fulfill initial expectations and show why he had been slated to start. Green was a backup last year. In March, he played between 19 and 31 minutes per game. He was a five-star recruit and McDonalds All-American who scored double digits in 17 games and converted at least three three-pointers in four games. His biggest improvement by the end of the year was in his quality on defense. Washington started 30 of 37 games last year. He proved to be Kentucky’s only reliable man inside. He scored double digits in each of Kentucky’s three NCAA Tournament games. Washington drew fouls at a high rate and was almost as efficient inside against higher-tiered competition as he was overall. Lastly, Travis was a star in the Pac-12, who could have entered the NBA draft, but wanted a taste of March Madness. He averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds last year. Travis is physical in that he cleans up on the offensive glass and draws fouls at a high rate, but he also began to develop a perimeter game.

In terms of newcomers, point guard Immanuel Quickley is a freshman who is known for his shooting ability, but also his willingness to be unselfish and distribute the ball. He averaged six assists per game in high school and, during Kentucky’s trip to the Bahamas, largely avoided turnovers. Small forward Keldon Johnson is extremely versatile. He can be tough inside, but he also converted 44 percent of his three-pointers in the Bahamas. He’s lengthy, which also helps on defense, and will be an efficient scorer.

Kentucky is, like Duke, co-favored at +500 win the Championship, though less because of its raw talent and more because of its proven experience.

The Verdict

Kentucky has two key advantages—in the post and in experience. Match-up wise, Washington and especially Travis will thrive for Kentucky in the paint now that rebounding and shot-blocking monster Wendell Carter is no longer around to help Duke defensively. In terms of experience, Duke’s players have more strides to take in order to develop chemistry with each other. Each freshman is to some degree a „do everything“ player whose abilities transcend position. Instead of trying to do everything, Duke’s players need to grow with each other in a way that each player still flourishes individually while the team thrives. Kentucky returns two players from last year with significant starting experience, which will help them begin with more chemistry. At this stage of the season, more experienced players are already at least somewhat polished in their skill-set and have a better idea of what they’re doing on the court and how to succeed on the college level.

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