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1. Mike Krzyzewski is boasting the best recruiting class in the nation for the third consecutive season. Except this one is even more special, as everyone already knows, with the top three players in the class all signing on to the Blue Devils, RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cam Reddish. On top of that, they also added one of the best guards in the class in Tre Jones and a top-35 player in Joey Baker. A lot can be said about some of Calipari’s great classes at UK, as well as the Fab Five at Michigan in 1991, but it is hard to argue against the notion that this Duke class is the best class of all time. We get some revisionist history with the Michigan and Kentucky classes because we know how special a lot of those players turned out to be both in college and on the professional level. At no time since recruiting rankings became popular and somewhat “official”, have the top three players all signed at one school. It was an unheard of accomplishment for the Duke staff and it is the major reason why they are one of the favorites to win the National Championship come March.
2. Duke returns three players that all played over 10 minutes per game last season. All of the talk about the Blue Devils surrounds the highly touted freshmen, and rightfully so, but don’t go thinking they have absolutely no experience leftover from last year.
Former Kentucky target and Shannon The Dude’s least favorite player, Marques Bolden, is now a junior. Bolden played nearly 13 minutes per game last season behind two top 10 NBA Draft picks in Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter. Bolden may even get the start at the 5 for the Blue Devils tonight.
Another potential starter at the 5 for Duke tonight is 6’10” Javin DeLaurier. He’s joins Bolden as another junior on this squad and also played just under 13 minutes per game. Both he and Bolden spent their practices trying to defend two of the better big men in the most recent draft, so their experience may be extremely valuable in guarding Kentucky’s onslaught of post players.
Alex O’Connell is a player off the bench that can provide some instant offense for Duke tonight. Playing around 10.5 minutes per contest last season, he can really shoot it from anywhere on the floor. He looks to pick up where he left off last year, hitting threes at a 48.9% clip.
3. Tonight is the seventh consecutive match up between Kentucky and Duke in which both teams are ranked in the top 10 at the time of the game. In my opinion, that is the mark of two truly historic basketball schools. Duke has never had a streak like this one with any other school. The closest they’ve been is a streak of five consecutive with North Carolina in the late 1970s.
4. Kentucky is the only ranked team that Duke is guaranteed to play in their non-conference schedule this season. While it doesn’t get much tougher than playing a top five team in your first game of the season, Duke managed to alleviate any potential struggles early in the year by scheduling a pretty easy out of conference slate.
To preface this, I will say, that Duke’s ACC schedule puts them through the gauntlet, but they might not get much of a test outside of the Kentucky game until January. There’s a chance for a big match up in the Maui Invitational, with teams like Gonzaga, Auburn, and Xavier looming in the field, but none of those match ups are set and will require multiple wins for the games to come to fruition. Duke hosts unranked Indiana in Durham, as well as playing Texas Tech on a neutral floor near the end of December. It is clear you can see the difference in scheduling as Kentucky is playing a for sure three top 10 teams out of conference this year (Duke, North Carolina, and Kansas), as well as a road game at Louisville, a home test against Utah, and a neutral site game against Seton Hall.
In ACC play, Duke plays a total of nine games against pre-season ranked teams (UNC twice, Virginia twice, Clemson, Florida State, Syracuse twice, and Virginia Tech). Compare to Kentucky’s SEC schedule that is just behind Duke’s at seven games against pre-season ranked teams (Auburn twice, Mississippi State twice, Tennessee twice, and LSU).
5. Kentucky leads the all-time series over Duke 12 wins to 9. As much as we like to say that Duke is one of our heated rivals as Kentucky fans, this will only be the 22nd match up between the two schools. Whereas Duke has played North Carolina 173 times, and Kentucky has played Tennessee 140 times. On top of that, the wins for both sides have come in spurts. The Wildcats won 10 of the first 12 meetings against Duke; however, the Blue Devils have come on strong as of late. Duke has won 7 of the last 9 match ups, dating back to 1979.
Go Cats. Beat Blue Devils.