On Tuesday night, No. 4 Duke will take on No. 2 Kentucky in its season opener. The Blue Zone gives three keys to victory for the Blue Devils.
Both teams enter the season opener with questions about their ability to hit from deep. Last season, Kentucky struggled mightily, and outside of freshman Tyler Herro, who went 5-for-7 from deep in the Wildcats’ last exhibition game, those issues still linger. Kentucky shot 10-for-35 over its two exhibition games from downtown—excluding the newcomer’s performance—against Division II squads, raising questions for when the Wildcats face off against an aggressive Duke defense.
Meanwhile, strong perimeter shooting has been a hallmark of Blue Devil squads for as long as fans can remember. However, with R.J. Barrett sporting a streaky shot and Cam Reddish recovering from a fractured rib, Duke does not boast any more prowess from deep. The game may very well come down to which squad is able to hit the three-ball more consistently down the stretch under the spotlights of the Champions Classic.
High-Motor Play for 40 Minutes
Although teams try to put in full efforts in exhibition games, they likely are not giving 100 percent as they beat up on lesser squads. But when the ball tips at 9:30 p.m., both teams will find themselves in a heavyweight battle that will require focused play for the entirety of the contest. Such an environment may pose a problem for the young Blue Devils, playing in their first college game against a Wildcat squad with more experience and depth.
As shocking as it is to read, Coach Calipari and Kentucky will be sporting a starting lineup with just two freshmen and can very well go nine-deep into the rotation featuring five total returning players. Meanwhile, Duke will counter with four freshman taking the floor to start and a notoriously short bench that may only reach seven or eight. The Wildcats will have the luxury of throwing fresh bodies to defend the Blue Devils freshman phenom, who will need to adapt on both sides of the ball once play starts. Will Duke’s superior talent level outlast Kentucky’s depth of talent?
Whose Big Man Will Emerge?
Despite boasting highly-ranked recruits to play the five, both the Blue Devils and Wildcats need their primary post presences to step up. Starting with Duke, head coach Mike Krzyzewski poached Marques Bolden from Lexington, Ky. to secure the top-ranked center in his class to go along with Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Frank Jackson three years ago. However, injuries and difficulty adjusting to the college place has left Bolden a shell of his high school self. Despite showing flashes of promise, the junior has yet to put together consistent action in limited minutes over consecutive games. However, a clean bill of health, recent praise from the coaching staff, and a solid exhibition performance with 15 points, six rebounds and three blocks in the final contest offers some hope entering the new season.
Bolden will likely bang bodies in the post against Nick Richards, who started all 37 games last season. The Jamaica native was a top recruit out of high school, but saw his playing time diminish down the stretch, averaging just 5.1 points per game and 4.4 rebounds per game. With both teams donning elite talent on the wings and the point, the play in the paint could be an important difference-maker.
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