Editors’ preview: Kentucky vs. Duke


Kentucky freshman guard Ashton Hagans reaches for a loose ball during the game against Duke in the State Farm Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

As Kentucky basketball gears up to face off against Duke on Nov. 9 at Madison Square Garden, the Kernel’s sports editors, Hunter Shelton and Barkley Truax, offer their game predictions.

What matchup are you most intrigued by between the Cats and Blue Devils?

Hunter: Oscar Tshiebwe and Mark Williams. Tshiebwe seems to be an unstoppable force in the lead up to the season. Williams will be one of the better seven-footers that Tshiebwe will have come up against in his collegiate career. If Williams is able to stifle UK’s big man, Kentucky will have to rely on their shooting more than they’d like to. 

Barkley: Sahvir Wheeler and Jeremy Roach. They’re two Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award candidates, but they’re also two point guards with different career outlooks. Wheeler is the established defender and prolific passer, while Roach is the unproven scorer with an NBA future. They’re both the best passers on their respective teams, but if Wheeler’s perimeter defense is as advertised, Roach may be in for a long night in the scoring column.

Do you think Kentucky can contain player of the year candidate Paolo Banchero?

Hunter: Given the hype surrounding Banchero, it seems likely that he is going to score his fair share of points. Keion Brooks is going to have his hands full, so if the Wildcats’ interior defense can hold strong and make Banchero beat them shooting the ball, they should be happy with that. If Banchero is able to use his size and handles to get to the rim, it’s going to be a long night for Calipari and the Cats.

Barkley: No. There’s a reason why this kid was a top-three consensus recruit in this year’s class. While it was just an exhibition, his 21 points and nine rebounds in Duke’s 106-38 stomping of Winston-Salem State is just a taste of what he can do with the lights on bright. Did I mention he only played 20 minutes? The saving grace for Kentucky is the fact that he will likely find his way into foul trouble one way or another; it was a problem for him in their exhibition and throughout his high school career. The former high school quarterback doesn’t lack physicality to say the least. No matter the opponent, he’ll get his fair share of points and rebounds regardless.

Who for Kentucky will be the X-factor against Duke?

Hunter: TyTy Washington. His pure shooting stroke is automatic. If he gets hot, he’s capable of racking up points quickly. He can turn a double-digit point deficit into a three-point lead in the matter of possessions. If Washington is able to get his shots up and facilitate to Kentucky’s other playmakers, they will score ten-fold. Washington scored 14 in UK’s Blue-White game and followed it up with 18 points, two assists, two steals and a rebound against Kentucky Wesleyan. If the point guard is firing on all cylinders, Kentucky may roll in Madison Square Garden.

Barkley: Oscar Tshiebwe said that only God can out-rebound him — from the small sample size Kentucky fans have seen of the big man from the Congo, he might be right. His 20-20 game in the Blue-White scrimmage followed up by another double-double against Kentucky Wesleyan a week later, not to mention a +26 efficiency rating is something Big Blue Nation should probably get used to. Two things that worry me about the big man: one, can he stay out of foul trouble? Two, how bad will Kentucky’s postgame suffer when Tshiebwe is on the bench?

How deep will John Calipari go into his bench?

Hunter: Calipari has spoken at-length in the preseason that he is willing to play however many people it takes to get the desired result. Given that it is game one, Big Blue Nation should expect to see at least nine players. The bench production will be the key to if the number of players exceeds nine or not. Kellan Grady and Davion Mintz join Washington and Sahvir Wheeler in the guard position, all of whom will see the court. Tshiebwe and Brooks will likely headline the forwards, while Bryce Hopkins and Damion Collins come off of the bench. If CJ Fredrick and Jacob Toppin are healthy enough to play, expect Calipari to experiment in the first half but settle in with a smaller group of guys in the second.

Barkley: With his lone exception being the 38-1 team in 2014-15 that produced nine future NBA players and went as deep as 11 into his bench, John Calipari has stuck with playing eight to nine guys consistently throughout his coaching career. This season, Calipari has 10 athletes on scholarship and can reasonably play 12 different players that either played on last season’s team, came from a program where they excelled or was a top-50 rated recruit out of high school. Calipari started Wheeler, Washington, Grady, Brooks Jr. and Tshiebwe in the first game and we can expect to see Daimion Collins, Davion Mintz and/or Dontaie Allen and Bryce Hopkins. With Jacob Toppins and CJ Fredrick’s status still up in the air as of right now, this team has the potential to run at least 10-deep when at full strength.

Final Score prediction?

Hunter: Duke 82, Kentucky 76. Expect this game to be up-and-down, filled with fast-paced action all night, as both teams are looking to play up-tempo basketball. With emotions running high, as it will likely be the last time that Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski square off against one another, I don’t see a lot of defense being played in this one. Banchero will provide the spark needed to stave off a late comeback bid from the Cats in the second half, as Duke claims the close victory.

Barkley: Kentucky 78, Duke 71. I’m not extremely confident the Cats can take down the Blue Devils to start the Mike Krzyzewski farewell tour, but the depth and experience Kentucky has is something Duke doesn’t and that cannot be understated. This game will be close either way — I can’t see another repeat of Duke’s 2018 routing of Kentucky in Indianapolis. Kentucky takes this one behind Tshiebwe’s double-double and will head into that Friday’s game against Robert Morris 1-0 to begin the season.