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Kentucky Camp Focusing Early On Duke

And now it’s time for Duke fans to start focusing too.

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State Farm Champions Classic - Duke v Kentucky
Will John Calipari be this agitated when Kentucky plays Duke next week?
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Here’s an early look at the Duke-Kentucky matchup coming a week from Tuesday. While we always say that we don’t bet against Duke, at this point, Kentucky probably has a number of advantages including inside strength and experience.

Our friends at Sea Of Blue rightly point that out but they probably don’t appreciate the improvements that Javin DeLaurier and Marques Bolden have made in their games. Bolden was really impressive vs. Ferris State and DeLaurier has vastly improved his offense. Both guys are now capable of hitting threes and with DeLaurier in the lineup, not many teams will be faster from end to end than Duke will be.

Duke has been on TV or at least broadband five times now, three in Canada on this summer’s trip and twice in exhibition games.

We’ve seen enough now to make some early assessments which we’ll get into more fully soon. But for now, let’s stick with these bullet points as counterpoints to some of what we saw in the story linked above.

Duke’s versatility is off the charts. RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish can all be backup point guards. They can all be shooting guards. Or small forwards. Or power fowards.

Williamson is one of the few guys we’ve ever seen who could play point guard or center (Magic Johnson and LeBron James may be the only others).

Duke will bring either DeLaurier or Bolden off the bench along with Jack White and Alex O’ Connell. That gives Coach K his normal eight-man rotation but with immense flexibility.

Remember when Duke had a six-man rotation in 2000? Mike Dunleavy allowed Duke to keep everyone fresh because he could be applied almost anywhere on the court.

Well Duke has that in spades now.

Barrett, Williamson and Reddish can play all over the place and so can Jack White, who can play at least three positions although we call it positionless now. Alex O’Connell allows Barrett, Williamson or Reddish to be moved almost anywhere.

Duke, as we mentioned, has immense speed too. But there are two intangibles that are by definition impossible to quantify.

First, intelligence. The freshman class is not just talented, it’s as smart as any class we can remember anywhere anytime. These guys really understand the game and none of them are particularly hung up on selfishness. The biggest revelation here is Williamson. We had no idea just how complete a player he is or how sophisticated his grasp of the game is. We’ll say it again: if you have a chance to see him in person you should take it. Trust us on this.

Second, competitive desire. People have understood for a while that Barrett is immensely competitive. It hasn’t been as clear just how intense Williamson and Tre Jones are but people will understand soon. In Duke’s laugher over Ferris State, late in the second half, Williamson went diving for a ball - then jumped up and chased the other guy down the court before forcing a turnover.

You can reasonably expect Kentucky to be favored in this game but we’ll say this: most people don’t fully understand what Duke has this year - and may not for a few weeks still.

But they will.

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