Duke will take the floor Tuesday night for its first official contest since the team's heartbreaking Elite Eight loss to Michigan State seven months ago. The Blue Devils obliterated Kentucky in last year's season opener and will look to make it three consecutive Champions Classic victories with a win over No. 3 Kansas this time around. The Blue Zone gives you a key player to watch from each team:
Duke: Center Vernon Carey Jr.
For the Blue Devils to walk away victorious Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, they will need freshman Vernon Carey Jr. to make an emphatic college debut on the biggest stage of his career to date. Starting alongside sophomore Tre Jones and freshman Matthew Hurt, the 6-foot-10 center won't necessarily need to lead the team in scoring, but a strong outing against Kansas could be the edge Duke needs to pull out a win in the season opener.
If Carey Jr. can provide a presence with his height in the post and gain additional possessions for the Blue Devils by grabbing offensive rebounds, Duke will have ample opportunities to use its talent to put the ball in the basket. By proving his shooting range early in the contest, Carey Jr. would force his defender—likely Kansas’ Udoka Azubuike—to play him tight, giving the Florida native a chance to later drive past him for easy two-handed slams. In the post, the Duke center can also look for his teammates on the perimeter or cutting to the basket. Overall, Carey Jr. will need to make a splash on the interior—in either the scoring or rebounding department—in order for his team to knock off the third-ranked Jayhawks.
Kansas: Guard Isaiah Moss
The key to a Kansas victory lies in the hands of a player who has never worn a Jayhawks jersey in the regular season before. Over the summer, Isaiah Moss transferred to Kansas after a four-year stint at Iowa where he scored in double figures 43 times in his three seasons after redshirting. Last season, Moss scored 9.2 points per game—fifth-most on an NCAA tournament team that took second-seeded Tennessee to overtime in the Round of 32. Moss provides Kansas head coach Bill Self a long-range threat, as the Chicago native drained 42.1 percent of the triples last season, fourth in the Big Ten.
Besides knocking down threes, Moss has the ability to drive to the lane and score in traffic. A 79.1 percent free throw shooter a year ago, Moss started all 35 games at shooting guard and had a knack for getting hot, highlighted by the Hawkeyes' February 2018 road contest against Minnesota during Moss' redshirt sophomore campaign. In that game, Moss scored 19 points over the final 96 seconds en route to a career-high 32 points.
Moss’ status for Tuesday's game is still up in the air after he injured his hamstring early last month. But the combo guard saw minutes in the Jayhawks’ final tune-up on Halloween, and with Moss in the rotation come its game against Duke, Kansas will have a weapon that will be difficult to limit.