Five things: Duke men's basketball takes on another young foe in Kentucky



On the eve of another college basketball season, it's time to take a look at Duke's first opponent of the season: No. 2 Kentucky. 

The Wildcats, like the fourth-ranked Blue Devils, are young with plenty of question marks, meaning Tuesday's tussle at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis should provide some early answers for the respective blueblood fanbases as well as college basketball observers across the country.

So without further ado, The Chronicle breaks down five things to watch when it comes to head coach John Calipari and his Kentucky squad.

1. Who needs experience?

The most obvious thing about this matchup is that both teams are very, very young. Duke will almost certainly start four freshmen alongside a junior in either Marques Bolden or Javin DeLaurier. But the Wildcats won't have much of an edge in the experience department—sophomores Nick Richards and P.J. Washington did start at least 30 games apiece last season, yet that's just one year. And Kentucky's rotation could very well feature five freshmen, headlined by top-15 prospects Keldon Johnson and E.J. Montgomery.

The only upperclassman that will likely see time for the Wildcats is graduate transfer Reid Travis, who has just one year of eligibility remaining as he comes to Lexington, Ky. Speaking of Travis...

2. Reid up

The 6-foot-8 forward should have a major impact on Kentucky from the get-go after playing his first three seasons at Stanford. Travis, a former consensus top-50 recruit, suffered a knee injury eight games into his sophomore season out west before going on to win back-to-back first-team All-Pac 12 honors the last two seasons.

Travis led the Cardinal in points with 19.5 per game last year—good for third in the conference—and he chipped in 8.7 boards a contest as well. Travis should start up front for the Wildcats along with Washington and Montgomery, giving Kentucky a group that shouldn't have too many problems contending with the Blue Devils' size and length.

What remains to be seen, however, is how Travis functions as a leader on a new team. Kentucky doesn't have captains—at least not yet—and the big man is one of eight who has yet to see the floor as a Wildcat.

3. Calipari vs. K

The battle between two of college basketball's most famous coaches goes well beyond the on-court matchup between their current squads. Calipari and Coach K are always duking it out on the recruiting trail. Per ESPN, Kentucky and Duke have claimed the top two recruiting classes the last five seasons, with the Wildcats topping the Blue Devils just once.

The two coaches were poised to meet in the 2015 Final Four before Wisconsin shocked then-undefeated Kentucky, and Calipari's Wildcats handily beat Duke at the 2015 Champions Classic a few months later. 

All time, Krzyzewski is 2-1 against Coach Cal, with the two victories coming in 2012 at the second-ever Champions Classic and in 2005, when the Blue Devils edged out Memphis in the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden thanks to 30 points from Shelden Williams.

4. Young floor generals

Maybe the most intriguing matchup Tuesday will be between a pair of freshmen. Although Kentucky does have a returning point guard in Philadelphia native Quade Green, there's a very good chance that the Wildcats put the ball in the hands of rookie Ashton Hagans, just as Duke will have first-year Tre Jones lead its offense.

Hagans reclassified to join Kentucky a year early after being the No. 1 point guard in the Class of 2019. He's got plenty of speed and led the Adidas AAU series in assists last season, as well as being a plus defender. Like Jones, though, he's not a great shooter, and ESPN noted that Hagans has had turnover problems at times. Chances are that whichever team's freshman floor general steps up to the plate in their first collegiate contest will have a big edge in Indy.

5. Champions of the Champions

Although none of what happens Tuesday will matter all that much come March, the winner of the matchup between the Blue Devils and Wildcats will become the first team to five wins in the history of the Champions Classic. Both sides enter with a 4-3 mark whereas Kansas and Michigan State are both 3-4 all-time.

Also of note, both Kentucky and Duke won their respective Champions Classic matchups in the seasons in which they went on to win their most recent national title. Chances are that the selection committee won't care all that much about the results when it comes to seeding, but the season opener's outcome could be a good omen for the victor.

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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