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Why Duke being college basketball’s darling is the best thing that could happen to Kentucky


“They are the clear-cut preseason favorite because of talent as well as the blend of youth and experience.”

“They are the unquestioned preseason No. 1 team, no matter which poll you choose as your guide.”

“They are the overwhelming favorite to win it all entering the season, and I think they will make good on that potential by cutting down the nets next spring.”

“They can win every game they play…the “U-word” (undefeated) can be uttered this season.”


No, we haven’t gone back in time two years, when Kentucky was the overwhelming favorite to win it all. Those are all headlines from the past few weeks about Duke from various national media members including Jeff Goodman and Jay Bilas. Despite having the same number of five-star recruits (six) as Kentucky and a similarly loaded freshman class, Duke is the one in the spotlight this fall, while John Calipari and his squad are somehow flying under the radar (or, as much as you can when you’re Kentucky).

None of Sports Illustrated’s college basketball writers picked Kentucky to make the Final Four, while 14 of the 31 experts at ESPN had Kentucky in their Final Fours, with only two choosing the Cats to win it all. In comparison, Duke was an unanimous Final Four pick at Sports Illustrated and close to it at ESPN, with 30 of the 31 experts picking the Blue Devils to make the Final Four and 21 to win it all. The story was much the same at CBS Sports, where three of the four main writers picked Duke to win it all and Kentucky only showed up in two of the Final Four predictions. Now might be a good time to remind you that while Duke is ranked first in all of the preseason polls, Kentucky is close behind at number two, and John Calipari has made the Final Four four of his seven seasons in Lexington. And, oh yeah, this Kentucky team is loaded.

I don’t come here to bury the national media for their Blue Devil fixation; I come to praise them. The best thing that could happen to Kentucky this season is Duke being college basketball’s darling. Hear me out.

Someone else gets to shoulder that pressure

Two years ago, all eyes were on Kentucky, that beautiful juggernaut of a squad, which was similar to this year’s Duke team in terms of experience and young talent; however, the 2015 Cats shouldered the burden beautifully, rolling through the season like a well-oiled machine, picking up momentum until…well, you know. Will the Blue Devils wear the yellow jersey as well? They’re not off to a great start, with three star freshmen hurt (Jayson Tatum is expected to be back for tomorrow’s opener, Harry Giles is expected to return later this month, and there’s still no word on Marques Bolden). That’s just bad luck, but will the injuries set the Blue Devils back at all in terms of conditioning and chemistry?

Also, let’s not lie; going undefeated in conference play was much easier in the SEC than it would be in the ACC. Regardless, Jay Bilas — who famously gave the 2015 Cats a pep talk in the Bahamas about their potential — thinks Duke can do it.

“Duke can win every game it plays, and a season like Kentucky had in 2015 is not out of the question, even in the ACC gauntlet Duke must run,” the ESPN guru and former Blue Devil wrote last week. “The “U-word” (undefeated) can be uttered this season in Durham.”

It can, but are the Blue Devils ready for the pressure that comes with it?

Kentucky’s ups and downs won’t be sensationalized (as much)

While Duke finds its footing under the microscope, Kentucky will be free to do the same, but without the same level of scrutiny. It will probably always be news when Kentucky loses, but hopefully, with Duke firmly in the spotlight, the Cats’ highs and lows won’t be sensationalized quite as much, which could make things easier on this young squad. Sure, Kentucky’s 93-point exhibition win over Asbury grabbed headlines and the Cats have several marquee games coming up in which to turn some heads, but hopefully the national media will be so preoccupied with DukeFest 2016 they won’t even notice.

If Duke falls short, it will be the greatest thing ever

One thing I think the Big Blue Nation learned the hard way in 2015 was the higher you climb, the further you can fall. I know I’m not alone when I say I believed Kentucky’s run that year was meant to be, a cosmic gift from the basketball gods to reward the most diehard fanbase in all of sports. So, when that run came to an abrupt end, the fallout was absolutely crippling. I’m still not over it. Remember the heat Calipari took (even though his team had just won 38 straight games) and the twisting of the knife when Duke celebrated in our confetti two days later? It was awful.

Imagine if that happens to Duke this year. Not only can we get some glee from it since it’s, you know, Duke and we’re reminded of “The Shot” every single March, the narrative from the national media will be particularly interesting to watch. Will Coach K, the vaunted saint of all things roundball, still keep his crown, or will he face the same criticism Calipari did for not winning it all when it was set up on a tee?

Even better, what if the roles truly are reversed in the postseason and it’s Duke that stumbles and Kentucky that swoops in to steal the title? Well…


You better believe Calipari will use this for motivation

Yes, Duke will have all the pressure and the Cats can develop without each high and low being front page news, but the number one reason Duke being the national media darling is the best thing ever for Kentucky? Motivation, baby. There’s nothing John Calipari loves more than having the odds stacked against him, and the media obsessing about Duke while sleeping on his squad gives him a rallying cry.

Not only that, this is a chance to beat Coach K at the game Cal invented but K has gotten universal praise for the past two years. We joke about how Coach K copies Calipari’s model — Calipari even acknowledged it at media day — but I think the rivalry between the two has increased exponentially in his mind. Duke’s now getting just as many good players as Kentucky, and a title this year would move them ahead of Kentucky as the premier program in college basketball in the eyes of recruits. If that doesn’t light a fire under you, I don’t know what will.

So, go ahead, national media, tell us more about how Grayson Allen is the greatest thing to happen to college basketball since the peach basket and ignore the fact that Duke doesn’t really have a true point guard. Please, build that pedestal up a little higher and keep ignoring what’s happening here in Lexington. We’ll see you in Phoenix, where we’ll gladly help you trash the Duke 2017 National Champions story you wrote in November.

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

14 Comments for Why Duke being college basketball’s darling is the best thing that could happen to Kentucky

  1. EdC
    8:49 pm November 10, 2016 Permalink

    I totally agree. I was thinking the same thing as soon as I saw all the gushing over Duke and then the Final 4 picks almost made me laugh out loud. These guys are already loving each other and having a blast. Less pressure just makes all of that even better. I just hope Duke manages to stay undefeated for 6-8 weeks though I don’t think they will.

  2. UK Big Board Update
    8:53 pm November 10, 2016 Permalink

    Totally agree, Mrs. TT. Great article.

  3. Luether
    8:55 pm November 10, 2016 Permalink

    40-0, baby…

  4. Sheeeeeiiit
    9:26 pm November 10, 2016 Permalink

    I’ve been reading your stuff for years and I love your writing. This post is a great example. I agree with you that we just don’t need that pressure this year. We saw how difficult it was for a team to shoulder the expectations of not getting beaten. I don’t know about the Duke players this year, but our 38-1 season loss was so much harder because our guys were amazing people. I will always feel extra pain for them because I really felt they deserved that championship and a historic season. I can’t imagine anything making that loss more painful, unless of course Duke goes 40-0 this season. Vomit forever.

  5. BiasedBigfoot
    3:41 am November 11, 2016 Permalink

    Agree. Nice article.
    {P.S. Do you think this will still stand true if Duke loses two of their first five

  6. BiasedBigfoot
    3:43 am November 11, 2016 Permalink

    and we’re vaulted to #1?}

    4:27 am November 11, 2016 Permalink

    Well Coach K has taken advantage of being team USA coach and now has first dibs on USA players. He is now, what Cal used to be … don’t get me wrong UK is a strong team this year, and they can win it. But D.Fox was cut from USA team multiple times as was Malik Monk. Those are essentially his B list guys. Duke is stacked! For this year and next year. To bad they aren’t on the schedule this year.

  8. UK Big Bored Update
    5:59 am November 11, 2016 Permalink

    Agreed. And, the set up began last year when DUKE did not always get all the calls. Hate Uavel all you want, but that game with dook was excellent with rat face mouthing and tripalotamous getting kicked out.

  9. Jiminy Crickets
    8:45 am November 11, 2016 Permalink

    If Duke wins the title it will be their third in last seven years. Saying it pushes them ahead of UK for premier program, would be a vast understatement. Im sorry to say, but the national pundits have seen UK with Cal for Seven years and the Final fours are taken into consideration, but I think the Wisconsin loss hurt us more than just 2015 national title. It now has made questions that Cal couldn’t win with a team with more talent any team in the last 50 years. Duke and Coach K now get their choice of who they want, and the rest can go elsewhere. In the last 3 years, has Duke missed on any recruit that they wanted? This season means much more to UK and Coach Cal then most realize. UK doesn’t have to win the title, but they MUST do better than Duke.UK to the FF and somehow Duke missing the FF would be Huge, but he opposite could be devastating.

    • az1006
      9:16 am November 11, 2016 Permalink

      Pump the brakes, man. Yes, not winning the title in 2015 was devastating for fans, but national pundits have not begun questioning Cal because that team didn’t win the title. EVERYONE realizes how remarkable a 38-0 run is in today’s game, and the actual analysts (most of whom are former coaches) all understand losing one game does not a legacy make in college basketball.

      Secondly, IF Duke makes the Final Four this year and Kentucky doesn’t, it isn’t going to be devastating for the program. There’s no question Duke has momentum right now, but we’re not far behind. Am I supposed to believe that if we have one season where Duke finishes ahead of us, our program will collapse and never be able to recover? Come on. We’re going to be fine. I agree that we need to have a really good year this season because next season may be a bit thin with all of the exits, but I’ll worry about then later. The fact is, Duke doesn’t have a true point guard and guard play wins in March. We have arguably the best back court in the country. I like our chances.

  10. Jiminy Crickets
    8:59 am November 11, 2016 Permalink

    Coach K may very well be the most irritating coach ever, but he is a great coach. Don’t be surprised if Duke loses early to help take away most of that “pressure”. Count me in as one of this crazy old guys that wanted UK to lose a late meaningless conference game to humble them. Kinda like what Pitino did with the 96 team in the SEC title game.

  11. TJY
    9:06 am November 11, 2016 Permalink

    Coach K can get the one and done players but he doesn’t force them to play defense. The 1990s Duke teams were beasts on defense and these 2010 teams just try to outscore you. IMO he is getting the players by telling them what they want to hear and not forcing them to become better. That is why UK players improve and excel in NBA and Duke’s players have to really work to be relevant. The 1 year at UK is proving that Cal really does develop players, and while we want championships, he wants kids to reach their full potential. Coach K saw a changing of the guard with Coach Cal and will do and promise anything to get those guys. That’s why I think Coach Cal will always hold over Coach K when it comes to kids that really want to be great.

  12. Badboy
    9:20 am November 11, 2016 Permalink

    This is no different than the media bias against conservatives in favor of liberals. Duke has always been the media darling and not UK. Notice how they no longer criticize one and done recruiting?

  13. Bluebloodtoo
    9:33 am November 11, 2016 Permalink

    I agree that the biggest impact of Duke love will be in recruiting. Cal is already fighting that battle, and it gets harder when we have a team stacked at multiple positions. It makes it too easy for other coaches to argue about available playing time. Recruits are getting less likely to wait until the spring to pick a school. That’s why we end up with a great team every other year. Cal seems to be adjusting by getting 2/3 yr players every chance he gets. I like what he’s doing to adjust. And….. “We’ll be fine”