Al Featherston did a great job talking about Duke-Kentucky in his column today so we don't have a whole lot to add to it, but we do have a few thoughts.
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First, like all basketball fans, we are amazed and at times baffled by Kentucky fandom. The passion is astounding and utterly sincere.
We just don't understand the sense of enmity because we don't return it. We admire Kentucky basketball and the tradition, but the fans - or at least some of the fans - are a bit hard to take at times. But it's the total devotion that's behind that, so we do understand it. Living in the ACC and most of all in the Triangle gives Duke fans a very different perspective than UK fans have. Our papers cover three schools. When you talk to someone, wherever you are around here, there's a good chance you'll talk to a fan of one of the other schools.
It's just very different from a place like Lexington, or Tucson, or Columbus or Tuscaloosa. They prefer that; we prefer this. Variety is a wonderful thing in life.
As far as this actual game goes, it's an intriguing matchup. John Calipari, who is not always this magnanimous about Duke and Coach K, said some very complimentary things about Duke on Monday, including this:
"I think Mike’s done a fabulous job. He’s trying stuff. He’s not just saying we’re playing like we did the year before. He’s not. They’re doing a couple of the same actions but the idea of what they’re doing is totally different."
That's Calipari sort of acknowledging Duke's philosophy of adjusting to personnel rather than forcing them into a system. It's nothing new to most of us, and it's still pretty early, so we'll see how this team evolves.
And Tuesday night?
It's an interesting matchup. Kentucky gets the advantage of better inside talent, but they have that most years. Duke will counter this year's collection with Marshall Plumlee, Amile Jefferson and Chase Jeter, with guys like Grayson Allen and Matt Jones able to help out to some extent.
Brandon Ingram is a tough matchup for anyone but he's far too thin to defend really big guys yet (although his athleticism and arms make him a very potent defender in most situations)
Both teams are essentially remade, with Kentucky leaning heavily on Skal Labissiere and Jamal Murphy.
But both have returnees who are imposing: Kentucky has Alex Poythress, returning from a knee injury but prodigiously gifted, Marcus Lee, who is about as big as Poythress and thus a problem for Duke, Derek Willis and Tyler Ulis.
Ulis is just 5-9 but he earned a ton of respect last year and if Kentucky didn't have to be so concerned about chemistry with the Harrison twins, Ulis would surely have started. He's really something.
He may have to make way again as Murray has shown early signs of being a prodigy. Ulis is really a point guard - at 5-9 that's really his only option - well, Murray will cut into that somewhat, and so far he leads the team in assists with 5 per game to 3.5 for Ulis (who is pulling down an impressive 4.5 rpg, incidentally).
It's entirely possible that Tuesday night could be a coming-out party for either Labissiere or Murray.
However, Duke is not without real talent and has a hidden advantage which we'll get into presently.
In the first two games, Grayson Allen has made many people ooh and ah with his drives or long jumpers, but what we've noticed is that more than once, he has dropped into the lane to help defend the basket. And while it's not getting the same oohs and ahs, for a 6-4 guard, he's getting really close to some amazing blocks. He's only credited with one on the season, but he's altered some shots. It's almost Brickey-esque (Robert Brickey played post for Duke in the late 80's despite being just 6-5, mostly because he could really, really fly).
Duke will lean heavily on Plumlee and Jefferson around the basket, mostly on defense, and both will need to stay out of foul trouble. Matt Jones is also a factor, as he proved in the Final Four, often defending much taller players. He doesn't get a lot of attention, but he's a wonderful player for Duke, one of whom Coach K once said "he's never had a bad practice."
It's also, of course, Ingram's first time in the spotlight. We've seen tantalizing views of his ability. He reminds us in some ways of former Heel Sam Perkins. Perkins was a big man, but also about 6-9, and they have very similar arms.
Ingram's are so long that when he stands still his fingers obscure the D on his pants.
He has shown range, an ability to penetrate, a phenomenal ability to bother passers and an alertness on defense. He's going to be great.
Freshmen Luke Kennard, Derryck Thornton and Chase Jeter will all play. Kennard is farther along than the other two and it wouldn't surprise us if he had a big game. Thornton could have an important impact, particularly on defense. Jeter still needs to beef up some, but he's capable as well.
And that hidden advantage?
It's this. Coach K's time management and communication skills mean that every year, his team is better prepared early than just about any team in the nation. This is why Duke has done so well in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, the pre-season NIT, the Hawaiian tournaments - Duke always excels early because he gets more done more quickly than just about any other coach in the country.
Will that help tonight? Well, it won't hurt.
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