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Key Three: Duke basketball vs Kentucky

After cruising to a 2-0 start during their open weekend, the fifth-ranked Blue Devils will face their first test of the season Tuesday against No. 2 Kentucky in the Champions Classic in Chicago. The two historic programs feature their fair share of highly-touted freshman as well as two of the game's most-iconic coaches. Here are some keys to the game for Duke in Tuesday's contest: 

Put the “D” back in Duke

After struggling at times on defense and allowing 64.2 points per game last season, the Blue Devils raised their play a notch during their journey through the NCAA tournament. But so far this season, some of last season's issues have reappeared with a different group of players. Not only are opponents scoring an average of 74.5 points through the first two games, but a young Duke team appears to have trouble communicating on defense on the court, leading to easy three-pointers and drives to the basket for opponents. 

Against a much more talented opponent in Kentucky, Duke is going to have to defend a multitude of talented offensive weapons. Kentucky has five players averaging double figures and are led by freshman forward Skal Labissiere and guard Jamal Murray. Look for head coach Mike Krzyzewski to utilize his team's depth by employing a pressing defense at times and expect him to alternate between his usual half-court man-to-man defense and the 2-3 zone the team has implemented of late. 

Find the floor-general 

After Tyus Jones declared for the 2015 NBA Draft, Duke knew it would need to find a new facilitator in the backcourt. Sophomore Grayson Allen and freshman Derryck Thornton were two of the best candidates to take the point guard role heading into this season and both are off to fast starts. In the team's first two games, the Jacksonville, Fla., native has made his mark, scoring 27 points per game, knocking down five three-pointers and slamming home multiple thunderous jams. Meanwhile, Thornton has turned the ball over just twice in two games and appears to be catching up to the speed of the college level. 

But when Duke is forced to run its half-court offense, there has been a lack of clarity over who is in charge. Rather than using a traditional point guard, Thornton, Allen, freshmen Brandon Ingram and Luke Kennard and senior Matt Jones have all split time with ball-handling duties. The results have been inconsistent as the Blue Devils have flashed spells of tremendous ball-movement with periods of stagnation. Without a consistent scoring attack, it could be hard for Duke to keep up with the Wildcats, who are already one of the better defensive teams in the country. 

Crash the glass

John Calipari’s team may be the biggest team Duke faces off against all season. Kentucky boasts a starting lineup featuring the 6-foot-11 Labissiere, alongside a pair of 6-foot-9 forwards in Marcus Lee and Derek Willis. Add in 6-foot-8 Alex Poythress and it becomes clear that Duke will have a tough time competing for rebounds Tuesday night. 

The Wildcats are averaging 44 rebounds per game as compared to the Blue Devils’ 33.5 thus far this season. Besides senior Amile Jefferson and graduate student Marshall Plumlee, no Duke player is averaging more than 4.5 rebounds per game, something that must change if the Blue Devils expect to compete with the Wildcats. If Duke's guards continue to crash the boards and the Blue Devils do a solid job boxing out defenders, the team has a chance to stay competitive on the glass. 

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 


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