It was a game that had been hyped since the college basketball schedule had been released, and we were expecting an exciting back and forth matchup of preseason top five teams that had scored the top two offseason recruiting classes.
That’s not what we ended up with.
Duke never trailed at any point while outscoring Kentucky 59-42 in both halves to come out of their matchup in Indianapolis with a 118-84 win, the 34-point loss is the worst of the John Calipari era for the Wildcats. It didn’t look like a fluke either.
Top recruit R.J. Barrett had 33 points on 50 percent shooting with six assists, and fellow freshmen Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish also scored 28 and 22 points respectively. Although the starting freshmen did lead the way for the Blue Devils, the few bench players didn’t look too bad either. Alex O’Connell shot 3-4 from behind the arc and Jack White grabbed 11 total rebounds, six of them offensive. As a team, Duke shot 54.4 percent from the field, 46.2 percent from behind the three-point line, and outscored Kentucky 60-38 in the paint.
The versatility and physicality that Duke has available is something that will be tough to match for any team in the country, and they showed it off in their opening game. The combined talent across the roster should cause trouble in the ACC throughout the year and likely into March and April. There are still some issues, free throw shooting and depth being some of them, but they are tough to look for and should be fixed in their next few games. Kentucky was supposed to be a team that could match up well with Duke, but the Blue Devils absolutely blew them out of the water. After one game, it looks like Duke may be absolutely the best team in the country and it may not be close.
As for Kentucky, there just wasn’t enough there to stop onslaughts from Barrett and Williamson, but that can be said for just about every team. Keldon Johnson and Reid Travis both had good, consistent performances for the Wildcats, who as a team shot just 4-17(23.5 percent) from three. They also turned the ball over 15 times, letting Duke steal the ball away for 10 of those, while only forcing four turnovers from the Blue Devils. John Calipari is an excellent defensive coach, and the road to the SEC title should still run through Lexington, but tonight they got dominated by an explosive Duke team. Kentucky still has some work to do if they want to compete with the nation’s elite.
It’s too early to tell if these teams will meet again in Minneapolis at the end of the season, especially since both teams are loaded with freshmen as usual. But a postseason game between Calipari and Coach K is something we have yet to see, and it once again looks like this may be the season these two will meet in the NCAA tournament.
Let’s just hope the next match is a closer one.
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