Photo Credit: Duke Men's Basketball Twitter
WE ARE OFFICIALLY 1 WEEK AWAY FROM THE START OF THE 2021-2022 COLLEGE BASKETBALL SEASON. Of course, this is assuming that the Coach K memorial piled on top of the already late start time does not push the game back to next Wednesday. The Cats and Blue Devils, as always, have experienced a ton of roster turnover from last season, leaving us with a lot of anticipation of what each team will look like. However, after many hours of watching film from scrimmages and exhibition games, here is what I gathered on what we can expect from our opposition.
To begin with, the expected starting 5 for the Blue Devils is G Jeremy Roach, G Wendell Moore Jr, G Trevor Keels, F Paolo Banchero, and C Mark Williams. Roach will probably take a lot of the lead guard duties, but Duke has shown different sets with all three of their guards. Roach, Moore, and Keels have all shown that they are comfortable taking the ball up the court and getting a play started for their offense. This is where I think UK will have an advantage over their opponents: playmaking. All 3 guards are capable of running point, but they are not elite playmakers by any means. Kentucky guards Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington are both better at dribble penetration, passing, and creating shots for both themselves and teammates. We have seen Cal use a little bit of full court press against Kentucky Wesleyan, so maybe we will see it again to try and force some turnovers before Duke can even set up their play. If Kentucky wants to win, they must win the turnover battle and overall point guard play.
That is mostly because they will have their hands full down low, with what may be the best front court in the nation. 6'11" Paolo Banchero and 7'0" Mark Williams will be causing problems inside of the paint both offensively and defensively. Paolo Banchero is the projected #1 overall pick and rightfully so. He has both the size and physicality to play inside as a traditional center, and also the guard skills and shooting ability to cause mismatches if you try to play a big man against him. I don't think there is a single player on our roster that can defend him 1 on 1, so I would expect a lot of double teams, or leaving him for open jump shots while taking away the paint. Double teaming is not ideal, as Duke definitely has capable shooters in aforementioned Keels and Moore, as well as Joey Baker off the bench. But letting Banchero go to work 1 on 1 will lead to an almost definite 30-15 for him and will be very difficult for us to overcome. And while he is capable to step outside and shoot from up to just outside the 3 point line, he is not an elite shooter, and we would much rather have him settle from the outside than work inside the paint. Alongside Banchero is Williams, a top candidate to have a breakout season. The center went on a run in his last 6 games of last season, averaging 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game on an astounding 74.6 percent shooting. Williams is a physical presence that will block or alter inside shots, rebound on both ends, and will do damage if you let him get positioning in the lower block.
Off of the bench, the graduate transfer F Theo John, F AJ Griffin, G Jaylen Blakes, and G Joey Baker should also find themselves earning minutes. Griffin, a 5 star freshman, was initially anticipated to be in the starting lineup, but recently suffered a leg injury. He appears to be ready to go, but has been playing in a smaller bench role in their exhibitions.
Schematically, Duke uses both high ball screens from their center or quick swing passes along the perimeter to get open driving lanes and, subsequently, open 3 pointers. They are also not afraid to pull a quick 3 pointer in transition if a shooter finds himself open. Surprising to me, they have not worked the post as much as I thought they would. They preferred to give their bigs touches coming out of the pick and roll, or for Banchero, face up looks out on the perimeter. Duke has experimented with a zone defense, but they will most likely stick to a tight man to man against Kentucky. They also appear to switch everything on screens, instead of fighting through screens to stick onto their original man. They also play a lot of help defense, whether it be a double team coming from a perimeter player to guard a drive, or Mark Williams poaching off of his man to get a block. Kentucky should be able to take advantage of this with Sahvir Wheeler and TyTy Washington being able to find open shooters or lobs to their bigs when the defense helps onto them.
Overall, I think this is one of the more interesting matchups we will see this year. Kentucky will be very reliant on their guard play, while Duke's strength is their 2 bigs. In order to win, aforementioned Wheeler and Washington, along with Kellan Grady and Davion Mintz, all need to have big games and win the matchup on the perimeter. Banchero and Williams will inevitably be dominant, but out guard play has the ability to match and overcome that deficiency. We will also need to see Oscar Tshiebwe hold his own in the rebounding battle and stay out of foul trouble. Our stretch 4's, such as Keion Brooks Jr and Daimion Collins, have a chance to take one of Duke's bigs out of the paint. If they prove they can knock down shots, the Blue Devils' interior defense will become much less effective.
This matchup between the two top 10 teams will take place at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, November 9. The game is scheduled for 9:30 ET, or approximately 30 minutes after the end of the Kansas vs Michigan State game, and will be on televised on ESPN.