After starting off its season with back-to-back wins at home, No. 7 Duke travels to Indianapolis for a Champions Classic showdown with No. 6 Kansas. Before Tuesday night's 9:30 p.m. tipoff, our beat writers make their predictions for the first top-25 matchup of the season.
Jonathan Levitan: Duke 58-55
With this year’s Champions Classic coming a week later than its usual opening-night date, we know more—but still shockingly little—about these two shorthanded teams. Duke will likely have to wait a bit longer for Dariq Whitehead’s debut, while Kansas will be without suspended head coach Bill Self and assistant coach Kurtis Townsend.
What is clear so far is that Duke looks capable of special things on defense, an impression that will be put to the test Tuesday inside Gainbridge Fieldhouse. This is the type of early-season meeting that tends to make offenses look in the mirror, giving the Blue Devils and their reliable defense a leg up on the Jayhawks’ high-scoring duo of Gradey Dick and Jalen Wilson. Expect Duke to head back to Durham with its perfect record intact.
Micah Hurewitz: Duke 71-64
With a historically dominant defensive performance during their first week—albeit against Jacksonville and USC Upstate—the Blue Devils look like they may not need a fully healthy roster (Whitehead still absent) in order to capture a win in Indianapolis. The other bench isn’t in tip-top shape either, with Self serving his suspension. Duke has harnessed the veteran leadership and turned in admirably scrappy play in its first two games, and just imagine what this team can do with Dereck Lively II becoming more involved in the offense. The Blue Devils have a rich history in Indianapolis (three national championships and several Champions Classic victories) that may very well continue with a signature win against the defending champs.
Sasha Richie: Duke 68-65
If I was writing this a week ago, I may have picked the other challenger, but since, a reinvented Duke team has impressed me. Sure, it has yet to play a real threat, but there is real value in dominating a mid-major team. The Blue Devils primarily proved their defensive mettle, but they also flexed some depth that last season’s team did not necessarily have. Add in Lively potentially playing more minutes, a spread-the-love scoring approach and a willingness to do the dirty work, and I think Duke has a favorable chance of pulling off the win. Kansas has a suspended head coach, an almost entirely new roster and has given up 50% more points than the Blue Devils against opponents of similar caliber. By no means do I think it will be a blowout, but this game is much more winnable for Duke than it seemed at the beginning of the season.
Jake Piazza: Kansas 72-62
Duke has a massive size advantage with its bigs. Ryan Young, Lively and Kyle Filipowski each have at least two inches on Kansas’ tallest starter, but outside of Mitchell, I’m concerned with their ability to roll with the switches that the Jayhawk offense is going to force. I expect a big offensive night for at least one of Duke’s bigs, but it is not going to be enough.
Max Rego: Kansas 78-69
Kansas is not the same team as the one that won it all in April, as Ochai Agbaji, David McCormack, Christian Braun, Remy Martin and Mitch Lightfoot departed and Self is still suspended. But different does not imply worse, and Kansas will once again contend for a top seed come March. My main question is this: Who will mark Wilson, who is averaging 20 points through the first two games? The absence of Whitehead blurs the answer, and Lively still working his way back makes this a likely Kansas victory.
Alex Jackson: Duke 75-70
It sounds as if Lively is very close to being a full go, and that will completely change the look of this Duke team. Now head coach Jon Scheyer can fully take advantage of the height advantage his team will possess in this matchup. I foresee Duke rolling with two main lineups: the bigs with Lively, Filipowski and Mitchell, and the veterans with Young and Jacob Grandison. Kansas is a newly assembled team that is missing its head coach. With Duke controlling the paint, I expect the Jayhawks to turn to the 3-pointer early (and they have plenty of shooting talent to do so), but to struggle under the spotlight.
Andrew Long: Duke 65-58
While Kansas is up there with college basketball’s most elite scoring units, Duke is up there with its most stifling defenses. The Blue Devils allowed just 82 combined points in their first two matchups—less than No. 1 North Carolina allowed in one game to College of Charleston and equal to what the Jayhawks put up against North Dakota State—and with the addition of Lively’s 7-foot-1 frame, Mitchell and Filipowski’s form in the paint and the perimeter defense from Tyrese Proctor, Roach and Grandison, I see yet another resolute defensive performance incoming. This will not be a matter of Duke outscoring Kansas but of out-defending it and pulling away in the dying moments. The end result? A marquee win against the reigning national champions.
Rachael Kaplan: Duke: 77-71
While I am by no means confident in this pick, there was one difference-maker that pushed Duke over the edge: Lively. The center’s impact was immediate in his debut, and he seems to be nearing full strength. Dick, the freshman phenom on the other side of the court, does present the Blue Devils with their biggest defensive challenge yet, but I do think they are stingy enough to limit him and the rest of the Jayhawks' offense. Both rosters look completely different as each team is only returning one starter from their Final Four lineups, and this Duke team is looking just a little bit stronger.
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