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X-factor: Duke men's basketball will need Tre Jones to step up in order to topple Kentucky

<p>Tre Jones can make or break Duke's team this season.</p>

Tre Jones can make or break Duke's team this season.

In a new twist, the 2018-19 college basketball season will kick off in Indianapolis with the Champions Classic, where No. 4 Duke will face No. 2 Kentucky under the bright lights. The Blue Zone takes a look at a player from each team that could be a difference-maker in the game.

Duke: Guard Tre Jones

Although much of the attention on Tuesday night will revolve around Duke’s top three recruits in RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cam Reddish, none of them will be as important as their fellow newbie, Tre Jones. Jones will be asked to control the Duke offense from the start. The Apple Valley, Minn. native proved in the team’s exhibition games that he is a willing distributor, as he had more assists than shots taken over the two games.

With no major contributors returning from last year’s team, the freshman will have to make sure that the contest doesn’t turn into a game of constant isolations, and that the ball always stays moving. These young Blue Devils have shown a tendency to throw up rushed shots without much ball movement, something that they could overcome versus inferior competition, but not against a championship contender like the Wildcats.

Previous Kentucky teams would pit Jones against another freshman guard, but this game will feature the Wildcats’ sophomore Quade Green, who is an excellent athlete with the ability to bully Duke’s young point man. Jones should also expect to be left open sometimes with his projected lottery pick teammates, and needs to be ready to step up and hit big shots.

Kentucky: Center Nick Richards

One big question mark surrounding Duke this year will be who takes over as an interior presence after the departure of Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. Juniors Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden have a few years under their belt, but not much game action, which is why sophomore big man Nick Richards needs to show up for Kentucky.

Richards and freshman E.J. Montgomery figure to be the two Wildcat centers used this year. With the former five-star recruit Montgomery lacking any college experience, Richards will be asked to use his experience to control the paint on Tuesday. The 6-foot-11 big man only averaged 15 minutes per game in his first season, but showed up in the Wildcats’ trip to the Bahamas, appearing in a starting role.

The former top recruit will need to make an impact on the stat sheet by converting his shots inside, as these Blue Devil bigs have yet to play a full game against a talent like Richards. If he can score effectively, Duke’s perimeter players will have to cheat inside, which opens up the floor for the Wildcats’ plethora of knock-down shooters.

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