Champions Classic Primer: Kentucky vs. Duke

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 6th, 2018

In the absence of significant injuries, it stands to reason that when the NCAA Tournament tips off in a little over four months from now, Duke and Kentucky will be viewed as two of the favorites to cut down the nets in Minneapolis. That is an elongated way of saying that the result of tonight’s top-five match-up in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis doesn’t mean all that much. But, it’s the start of a new season, and there’s really no better way to commence than having two national powerhouses square off in a game that will boast the most pound for pound talent that we will see all season long.

Duke and Kentucky Revisit Their Rivalry Tonight in Indianapolis (USA Today Images)

In something of a script flip, the Wildcats enter tonight’s game as the more experienced side with the less heralded freshmen. A trio of sophomores who combined to start a robust 80 games last year return to give John Calipari’s squad a relatively veteran feel. The returnee most likely to make the leap from precocious rookie to All-American is forward PJ Washington, a player who notched double figures in 11 of the Wildcats’ final 12 games last year. Classmate Nick Richards, who started every game as freshman, and Stanford graduate transfer Reid Travis (two-time First-Team Pac-12) will combine to form one of the elite frontcourts in college basketball. The Kentucky group will be put to the test immediately, however, as Duke will counter with the three most highly-touted incoming forwards in the game. Consensus #1 recruit RJ Barrett, rim-rattling man-child Zion Williamson and elite prospect Cam Reddish will be difficult to slow down offensively despite being so green. It will be more interesting to see how they cope on the other end of the floor, as the Blue Devils under Mike Krzyzewski in the one-and-done era have struggled in mastering his patented man-to-man defensive schemes.

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ACC Burning Questions, Part 5: Duke, North Carolina & Virginia

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 2nd, 2018

To wrap up our ACC team previews, Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) brings us home by reviewing league favorites Duke, North Carolina and Virginia.

Duke Burning Question: How will Duke’s talented freshmen gel on the court?

The Duke Freshmen Are Ready to Roll (USA Today Images)

Duke has the most talented roster in the country, but as we know, talent alone doesn’t always mean championships. After losing almost his entire roster from last year’s Elite Eight squad, Mike Krzyzewski reloaded with four of the very best prospects in the country. The question is how those pieces will fit together. While Zion Williamson (who is basically a cross between Justin Bieber and LeBron James on YouTube) is the Blue Devils’ biggest star, R.J. Barrett is the best player on the team. He dominated for Team Canada in the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup last year and is likely be the top pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The smooth lefty likes to have the ball in his hands, so it will be interesting to see how he interacts with expected starting point guard Tre Jones.

Will fellow freshman Cam Reddish accept not being the lead banana on a team with plentiful options? Will anyone outside of sophomore Alex O’Connell (48.9% 3FG) make any three-pointers? Will juniors Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier be able to stay out of Krzyzewski’s doghouse to support the talented freshmen? Whether you believe that Duke will figure it all out and win the national title or if you have concerns about egos overtaking the team en route to an early exit in March, Duke is without question the most fascinating team in college basketball this season.

North Carolina Burning Question: What lineup does Roy Williams want to use?

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ACC Burning Questions: Duke Blue Devils

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 9th, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Can Grayson Allen become the senior leader a young Duke team needs?

With a starting lineup full of potential NBA first-rounders, Duke is receiving a lot of love in national preseason rankings — #1 in the AP and USA Today polls, #2 in the RTC16. But four of those projected stars are freshmen, and Mike Krzyzewski only returns one player of significance from last year’s ACC Tournament championship team. Of course, that player just happens to be the most polarizing figure in college basketball — senior guard Grayson Allen. Just three short years ago, Duke entered the 2014-15 season with a very similar roster makeup and eventually rode freshman stars Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones all the way to an NCAA title. The unheralded but equally important component of that team’s success was the leadership of its lone senior, Quinn Cook. For the Blue Devils to meet their lofty goals this season, Allen will need to channel Cook’s leadership to guide his young teammates in a similar fashion — essentially by having a productive season on the floor and avoiding any further dirty-play incidents.

As the lone senior for Duke, Grayson Allen must provide positive leadership to the talented youngsters on the team, which means he must avoid any more episodes of dirty-play.
(Getty Images)

Allen has been in the college basketball spotlight since his surprising 16-point outburst as a freshman in the 2015 National Championship game. His career at Duke since that night in Indianapolis has experienced many ups and downs. His highs have been very high: an outstanding Final Four performance; consensus Second Team All-American as a sophomore. And his lows have been very low: three separate high-profile tripping incidents; a disappointing injury-riddled junior season. Given such an inconsistent history combined with his naturally reserved demeanor, it’s fair to question whether Allen is effectively capable of providing such leadership. For his part, Krzyzewski wants the senior to lead the team in behavior while off the floor and during stoppages in play. But during live game action, Duke’s coach prefers that Allen worry about his own play in an effort to “hunt his shot.” To free him to do so, Duke is counting on five-star freshman Trevon Duval to run the point guard position. The newcomer needs to improve his outside shot and will have to demonstrate that he can make good decisions at this level, but he’s very explosive off the bounce and thrives in transition — finishing at the rim with strength. Duval’s length and athleticism could also make him a potential demon on the defensive end of the floor. The other rookie starter on the perimeter, Gary Trent, Jr., will be counted on to help Allen provide the kind of space-creating three-point shooting that Duke teams always seem to have. Read the rest of this entry »

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