Previewing Kentucky

A look at the Wildcats who will face the Blue Devils on Tuesday night in Atlanta

Just a few days after their opener against Georgia State, the Blue Devils get a big boost in competition as they face off against defending national champion Kentucky. Here's a preview of the Blue Devils' second opponent of the season. The two teams come together as part of the State Farm Champions Classic after opening their respective seasons last Friday. Duke beat Georgia State by 19 at home, but Kentucky out-lasted Maryland by a 72-69 count despite being out-rebounded handily by the Terrapins. The Wildcats and Blue Devils have met 19 previous times with Kentucky winning 11 of those, but Duke has won six of the previous seven match ups.

As seems to be the norm these days, the Kentucky program is breaking in a number of new players this season with a number of highly recruited freshmen looking to audition for the NBA Draft over the next few months. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils will likely start at least three seniors in their lineup. Despite the vast differences in experience, the young and athletic Wildcats are considered one of the three best teams in the country.

For Duke, the biggest story surrounds the lineup and rotation. Mainly whether or not redshirt freshman Alex Murphy, who started the first two exhibition games, will see time after logging a "DNP" in the season opener.

Quotable:

"This game is going to be very hard and our fans are going to be happy if we win and very sad if we lose. All I'm trying to do is, ‘alright here are the two or three things we're going to think about against this team.' We worked on us for two days; I don't have time right now to work on other teams. We can't go game-to-game; I've just got to figure out how I can get our team better." - John Calapari

"They are going to try to deny wings and take you out of your offense. They will try to jam on pick-and-rolls and try to switch out on things to try to confuse you. They will do stuff we haven't seen and be physical." - John Calapari

"I haven't heard about the rivalry, but every game we play is going to be a big rivalry. Everyone wants to beat us so it doesn't matter what game it is. We are still going to have a rivalry so whatever game it is, you have to come like it is a big rivalry." - Willie Cauley-Stein

"I am a little young for that rivalry. I don't remember that rivalry as much as other rivalries, but in the minds of a lot of Kentucky fans this is a rivalry." - Jarrod Polson

PREGAME NOTES

Inexperienced, but talented: Kentucky is rated third in the nation, and yet the Wildcats return exactly zero starters from a season ago. Kentucky is the only NCAA BCS level team in the nation to not return a single player with at least one start from the 2011- 12 season. Missouri returns just one starter, preseason All-SEC selection Phil Pressey, who started all 35 games a season ago. Despite the lack of experience, the media expects this young group to win the SEC Championship this year. An illustrative point of this change over is that Kentucky returns just 6% of its offense from a season ago. The top returning scorer is Kyle Wiltjer who averaged 5.0 points per game. Wiltjer also is UK's leading rebounder at 1.8 boards a game.

The gem of the class: A year after the Wilcats featured a big man with a huge wingspan that blocked a number of shots on the defensive end, Kentucky welcomes a second player, Nerlens Noel, to Lexington with similar expectations. That may not be fair to the Everett (Mass.) native, as Anthony Davis was far more advanced on the offensive end, but it's the nature of the beast and Noel has huge shoes to fill. The media is certainly buying into Noel by naming him the preseason conference freshman of the year and preseason first team all-conference. In the opener Noel struggled with his offensive output - specifically at the free throw line - but still managed nine rebounds and three blocked shots against a tough, and physical Maryland frontline.

I remember you: Duke recruited Kentucky freshman Alex Poythress for a while last summer, but the Georgia native ended up removing Duke from his list in September of 2011.

Blue collar guy saved UK: Despite the number of future NBA players and highly rated blue chippers, it was an unlikely hero who stepped up for Big Blue in the season opener against Maryland. Junior Jarrod Polson made the most of a career-high 22 minutes scoring a career-high 10 points while dishing out a career-best three assists against the Terrapins. For his part, Calapari said he wasn't worried by inserting the little used Polson into the lineup.

"I told you guys the day before the game, if I had to play him, I had confidence in him. He has played against good players every year and he has gotten better and better."

So will Polson be playing this week against the Blue Devils? Perhaps. Ryan Harrow, the team's starting point guard (and former NC State guard) has battled illness lately, and his head coach wasn't ready to say if he'd be available or not:

"He had some blood tests and some different things. We have to get him to 100 percent; he's got to find energy. I didn't walk out to see if he is here to practice, I would say no but I haven't seen."

Of course, Polson has said all the right things:

"Honestly, who knows? I just know if I get my number called again I will have to be ready. I have been working hard in practice the last couple days so hopefully I will be ready."

Battle of the boards: Neither team was overly impressive in the rebounding game in the respective season openers. Duke, was out-rebounded by Georgia State by a 33-31 margin. Mason Plumlee did his part (14 rebounds in 35 minutes), but Duke got virtually nothing from their second big, Ryan Kelly, on the glass (3 rebounds in 33 minutes), and the freshmen wings Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy earned a combined 13 minutes. And while the Wildcats were somewhat disinterested on the glass against a tough, and motivated Maryland squad who pulled in 54 boards (28 offensive) against just 38 rebounds for the Wildcats. On paper the Wildcats should, with their size and athleticism be favored to win the battle of the boards against the Blue Devils…and it's been a point of emphasis for them this week:

"It's more or less of us just being conscious about, we follow the flight of the ball. Which, I think that's sixth grade, might be seventh grade. You don't follow the flight of the ball, you see the flight and you go find somebody and then go get the ball. But again, if we haven't worked on it, I can't be upset and we hadn't. I just thought we're 7 foot, 6'11, 6'10, 6'9, we'll rebound. No. When your guards are taking off and they're wedging you under and you're looking at the ball and you're next to the cheerleaders, you're probably not going to get the ball. But we worked on it; it's going to take time. We have habits, there is only one way to break habits and that's do it over and over but you can't do 55 things a day over and over."

NUMBERS GAME

  • Duke, ranked No. 9 as of Nov. 11, has been ranked in the top 10 of the AP Poll for 95 consecutive weeks. The last time Duke was not ranked in the top 10 was Nov. 19, 2007.
  • Mason Plumlee recorded his 19th career double-double with 19 points and 14 rebounds in the season opener. Plumlee has reached double- figures in rebounding 31 times in his career.
  • The point guard tandem of Tyler Thornton and Quinn Cook combined for 21 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals in the win over Georgia State. The duo was 6-of-11 from the field, including 5-of-10 from three-point range against the Panthers.
  • Seth Curry and his older brother Stephen have combined for 4,139 points during their college careers, making them the third-highest scoring brother tandem in NCAA history.
  • Duke is 184-124 vs. ranked teams under Coach K with a 97-44 mark since the 1997-98 season. Duke is 55-28 against ranked ACC teams and 42-16 vs. ranked non-league foes since the 1997-98 season. Duke has won 34 of its last 53 games when both teams have been ranked in the top 10.Duke is 20-12 under Coach K when both teams are ranked in the top five.
  • Duke is 463-73 vs. non-conference opponents under Mike Krzyzewski, including a 240-11 mark in home games. In neutral settings, Duke is 160-42 vs. non- league foes. Duke is 63-20 on the road under Coach K in non-conference tilts.

Projected Starters:
03 Nerlens Noel (6-10, 228, Fr.) - 4.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 3.0 bpg
10 Archie Goodwin (6-5, 198, Fr.) - 16.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.0 apg
12 Ryan Harrow (6-2, 170, So.) - 0.0 ppg, 0.0 rpg, 2.0 apg
22 Alex Poythress (6-7, 239, Fr.) - 8.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg
33 Kyle Wiltjer (6-10, 240, So.) - 19.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.0 bpg

Top Reserves
34 Julius Mays (6-2, 192, Sr.) - 7.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg
15 Willie Cauley-Stein (7-0, 244, Fr.) - 8.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg
05 Jarrod Polson (6-2, 190, Jr.) - 10.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 3.0 apt

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