(Picture Credit: ukathletics.com)
It is officially College Basketball season and I could not be happier! And if you drink two 5 hour energy's and a couple Red Bulls you'll be able to catch some of the UK-Duke game that takes part of the Champions Classic. All jokes aside this might be one of the most anticipated and hyped up games the college game has seen in awhile. Two monster programs, Coach K farewell tour, UK revenge tour, best player in college basketball, and a totally revamped UK team. You've probably seen plenty of UK season previews and opinions but now it's time to take a deeper look into this young and talented Blue Devils squad.
Jalen Johnson- NBA Draft (Round 1/ Pick 20)
DJ Steward- NBA Draft (Undrafted)
Jordan Goldwire- Transferred to Oklahoma University
Matthew Hurt- NBA Draft (Undrafted)
Trevor Keels- No. 20 overall player in ESPN 100
Jaylen Blakes- No. 89 overall player in ESPN 100
Paolo Banchero- No. 3 overall player in ESPN 100
Theo John- Grad transfer from Marquette
AJ Griffen- No. 9 overall player in ESPN 100
Like Kentucky, Duke had a difficult season last year and needed to make major changes to its team to keep up with the always changing college game. That is what Coach K and Cal do best though is adapting to be successful every season. Unlike UK though, K decided to stick to the incoming freshman class and beef up the frontcourt. In my opinion, the biggest addition for Duke this off season was bringing back the 7 foot Mark Williams to pair with Banchero in the paint. Williams started to come on late last season and can be difficult to handle down low with his size. Another key player returning for the Blue Devils is 6-5 wing Wendell Moore who continues to improve his all around game and looks to have a big season. The former 5 star wing probably didn't expect to be going into his junior season in college but everyone has a different path. His freshman season he shot 21% from three and last season he improved that to 30%. If he can continue down this path I believe he can be a successful NBA player on the right team.
The things I would worry about with this team is experience and guard play. This team actually reminds me a lot of past Cal teams. Solid bigs down low and guards who like to attack but struggle from behind the three point line. Outside of incoming freshman Trevor Keels, they don't seem to have consistent three point shooting. AJ Griffin got derailed a little by a lower leg injury but should be available for this game and will give Duke more depth. This is early and just what I have seen/heard so this could not be the case but only time will tell. Duke has experience on the bench in guys like Joey Baker, Bates Jones, and Theo John. But a load of Duke's minutes I believe will be played by freshman and sophomores.
This particular game might not be the prettiest given its the first game of the season, but it will be good insight to both teams to see where each other are. If you're playing for November your season ends in a month. Teams like UK and Duke play for March and that's why patience and understanding that both teams are going to improve tremendously by the end of the year are appreciated and satisfying. That being said, I believe UK's guards can carry us to a win in this game and it will be a big stepping stone to the greater prize the National Championship and starting Coach K's farewell tour with an L. Always, ROCK KENTUCKY BLUE!!
You can catch the Champions Classic on ESPN starting with Kansas vs Michigan State at 7 p.m. ET and then followed by Kentucky vs Duke.