NCAAB Picks: Duke vs. Kentucky, Who Should be Favored?

Matthew Jordan

Saturday, October 25, 2014 4:01 PM UTC

Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014 4:01 PM UTC

When you think college basketball these days, the first two programs that likely come to mind are Duke and Kentucky. With the 2014-15 season around the corner, which would be favored in a potential matchup? Here are their NCAA basketball odds.

If you were asked to name the true blue bloods of the college basketball world, teams like North Carolina, Syracuse, Louisville, Indiana, Michigan State, Kansas and UCLA probably have to be on any list. Either for how good they might be this season or have been in the past. But the bluest of the blue bloods in the current era are Duke and Kentucky. The biggest stars in college basketball are never the players but the coaches. And by far the two biggest-name coaches are Duke's Mike Krzyzewski (who also coaches Team USA) and Kentucky's John Calipari. Both are Hall of Famers and the two best recruiters going. Coach K will reach 1,000 wins this season -- he's at 983. He might go down as the second-best college coach ever behind John Wooden.

Let's break down the Wildcats and Blue Devils. Sadly, they aren't scheduled to meet in the regular season. They do play on the same day and in same city: Champions Classic on Nov. 18 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, but Duke plays Michigan State and Kentucky faces Kansas. Just about every time Duke and Kentucky play it's an instant classic, none more so than the Christian  Laettner NCAA Tournament game on March 28, 1992. That may be the best college basketball game in history. The two schools last played in the 2012 Champions Classic.


Wildcats Essentially Have Two Starting Fives
Right now Calipari, the only coach to lead three schools to the Final Four (UMass, Memphis and Kentucky three times) has to be given the edge as the nation's best recruiter as he lures some unbelievable talent to UK. No one has taken better advantage of the one-and-done rule to enter the NBA draft. Calipari even had the brilliant idea of holding his own scouting combine for NBA scouts recently. And there were about 90 there to watch nine McDonald's All-Americans. Think about that. Some schools are lucky to land one every other year. Kentucky has nine! UK's second team would probably be ranked in the Top 10 of the preseason polls. UK is No. 1 for the second year in a row and the favorite at sportsbooks.

On paper, this looks like Calipari's best overall team ever, although it's not clear if there is a dominant singular talent like Anthony Davis a couple of years ago. Freshman big man Karl Anthony-Towns could be that guy. Add in another stellar freshman class built around Towns and guard Tyler Ulis to eight of the Top 10 players returning from last season's national runners-up. The Harrison brothers, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress all passed up the NBA draft to return. At one point, all were expected to leave. Only Julius Randle and James Young did and they were both first-round picks.

So while last year's team was also an early national title favorite with perhaps Calipari's best-ever freshman class, this year's has the veteran leadership to hold down the fort until perhaps the kids are ready.  Kentucky is the +300 favorite on BetOnline's NCAA basketball odds to cut down the nets next April in Indianapolis. That sportsbook also has a prop of UK (same odds) against the field, which is -400.


Coach K's Best Class?
Of all the great players Krzyzewski has recruited to Durham, many believe this year's freshman group is his best. The quartet of center Jahlil Okafor, point guard Tyus Jones, small forward Justise Winslow and shooting guard Grayson Allen are all ranked in the Top 25 nationally. Okafor is No. 1 overall and already projected as the top pick in the 2015 NBA draft. Coach K has lauded how good Okafor has looked and that's very unusual for Krzyzewski to do with a freshman this early on. Okafor and Jones should start from Day 1.

Last season's Duke team was largely built around freshman Jabari Parker and transfer Rodney Hood. The Blue Devils stunningly lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament as a No. 3 seed to No. 14 Mercer. Parker lived up to the hype during the season, but he struggled in that game (4-for-14 shooting) as did Hood (2-for-10 from field). They were both NBA first-round picks, with Parker the Rookie of the Year favorite at sportsbooks.

Duke hasn't reached a Final Four since winning it all in 2010 and has flamed out of the NCAA Tournament in its opener now two of the past three seasons. The freshmen are all expected to play big roles this year, but Duke has some strong veterans, mainly  uards Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, forward Amile Jefferson and center Marshall Plumlee. I believe it's federal law that Duke always has a Plumlee on the roster. With Okafor, Jefferson and Plumlee, these Blue Devils have a paint presence that last year's did  not.

The Blue Devils are +1000 on BetOnline's college basketball odds to win the national title.


NCAAB Free Pick
If this were an early-season matchup you would have to favor UK in betting at sportsbooks because Duke lost its two best players off last year's squad and is expected to rely more on freshmen than Kentucky will. It will likely be the kids on both sides who determine a winner should the Wildcats and Blue Devils meet in the Big Dance. You do have to lean the field for your college basketball picks on those NCAA basketball odds, however. The overwhelming preseason national title favorite hasn't won it very often in recent years. 

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