No. 8 Duke is 1-0 following a 74-55 victory against Georgia State in its season-opener, but the team faces its first true test tonight in Atlanta when it takes on No. 3 Kentucky. In the game's key matchup, Mason Plumlee will look to build off his dominant performance against Georgia State last Friday against one of the top young big men in college basketball, freshman Nerlens Noel.
With tipoff rapidly approaching, here are three things to watch for tonight against Kentucky:
Can Mason Plumlee assert his dominance over Nerlens Noel?
Nerlens Noel is known for his defense, but if Plumlee looks anything like he did against Georgia State he should be able to out-duel Noel on the block. Maryland center Alex Len brutalized Noel and the Wildcats in Kentucky's season opener, pouring in 23 points on 10-18 shooting and pulling down 12 rebounds. Against Georgia State, Plumlee took complete control of the game, scoring seemingly at will, getting every rebound in his vicinity and even making a couple pretty passes from the block to open three-point shooters. Tonight's game will be a big test for Plumlee, but after seeing how Len succeeded, the same is to be expected from Duke's senior captain.
Can Tyler Thornton continue to knock down open threes?
Thornton shot 35.1 percent from beyond the arc last season, and just 26.7 percent his freshman campaign. Against Georgia State in the opener however, Thornton buried three of his six attempts. Last season the defensive specialist drained three three-pointers just twice in a game, a 4-for-4 performance against Western Michigan, and a 3-for-13 anomaly against Virginia Tech. After seeing Friday's game, the question becomes whether Thornton's shot is for real, or if this was his Maui Invitational performance against Kansas all over again. If Thornton is truly ready to be a deep threat, he will command the respect of his defender, preventing his man from double teaming more prolific scorers like Plumlee, Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon.
Will Alex Murphy make his Duke debut?
Easily the biggest question that arose from Friday night's season opener was why Murphy, who started both of Duke's exhibition games, never saw the floor against Georgia State even though he seemed to be healthy. It remains to be seen how a three-guard lineup can contend with a team that employs a true small forward, like Kentucky freshman Alex Poythress, who stands at 6-foot-7. Last season, sans Murphy due to his redshirt status, Duke was forced to turn to 6-foot-1 Tyler Thornton to guard 6-foot-8 Harrison Barnes of North Carolina. This season however, head coach Mike Krzyzewski has the option to go to his own small forward if he so chooses. Murphy seems like the obvious choice to contain the Wildcats' size and athleticism, but if he doesn't get his number called, Amile Jefferson will be thrust into that crucial role.
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