It’s been nearly 11 years since two of the most storied programs in the history of college basketball, Duke and Kentucky, faced off against each other. Tuesday night in Atlanta, Georgia will mark the 20th meeting between the two schools as part of the second installment of the State Farm Champions Classic, which also includes Kansas and Michigan State.
The marquee matchup has been discussed as the most anticipated game of the 2012-13 season and rightfully so. Whenever Duke and Kentucky are on the floor together, you are expected to witness an instant classic. Tuesday’s game should be no different, as it will mark the first meeting between two top-10 ranked teams this season.
The Wildcats, who lead the all-time series 11-8, dominated the early part of the series against Duke, winning 10 of 12 games against the Blue Devils from 1930 to 1978. Since 1979, the tide began to shift as Duke reeled off 6 wins out of the last 7 meetings, including the most recent matchup coming in 2001 as Duke defeated Kentucky 95-92 in overtime. Though, this series is best known for the 1992 clash in the East Regional Finals of the NCAA Tournament. In what has been referred as the “Greatest Game Ever Played”, the Blue Devils were victorious 104-103 on a buzzer-beating Christian Laettner jumper in overtime that propelled Duke into the Final Four, culminating in their second national championship. Laettner finished the historic game with 31 points and 7 rebounds.
As we flash forward to the present day, a lot of questions surround this particular meeting. The defending national champions, Kentucky, lost six key members from their title team to the NBA draft this past summer. Nine of the 13 players on this year’s roster is either freshmen or sophomores, including Kyle Wiltjer, the lone returner from Kentucky’s successful freshman class last year.
The Blue Devils, on the other hand, are led by seniors Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee. All three players were apart of Duke’s 2010 national championship and have competed in their share of big-time games through the course of their college careers.
This will truly be a battle between experience versus youth. Who wins out? We’ll find out Tuesday night. Until then, I asked a number of fans from both schools for their thoughts on the upcoming game. From matchups, to individual performances and keys to victory, I received great analysis from two of the most passionate fan bases in the country
What are the three biggest keys to victory for Duke to defeat Kentucky?
Taylor Ostrick: “First, defend. To beat a strong team like Kentucky, Duke has to play defense. They must keep the Wildcats out of transition, which they love to use to their advantage, and force them to play a half court game on offense. Duke must do their best to keep the Kentucky slashers out of the lane and prevent them from getting into the paint. The Blue Devils will have to exhibit strong perimeter defense, an aspect they struggled mightily with last season. Second, is rebounding. Kentucky is a very talented team and they have a number of athletic and versatile players. Duke must rebound the basketball well and prevent the Wildcats from getting second, third and forth chance opportunities. In this game, Duke cannot afford a poor rebounding effort against UK, allowing them multiple chances to score on each offensive possession. Third, the three Duke seniors will have to have strong games. The Blue Devils need to use their experience as an advantage against a very young, but talented Kentucky team. A double-double performance from Mason Plumlee would go a long way for Duke, as it is no secret that it is his team this year. There would not be a more perfect time for Plumlee to make that statement than against Kentucky on Tuesday.” Prediction: Duke 76-70
Last season, it was no secret that Duke’s Achilles heel was it’s defense. In their second game of the year and their first real test of the season, do you think it’s improved enough to give the Wildcats problems?
Brad Capps: “Duke specifically struggled on the perimeter and against athletic combo forwards. With the additions of freshmen Rasheed Sulaimon, Amile Jefferson and (redshirt freshman) Alex Murphy, they have upgraded those areas of concern. If Duke can get close to playing true Duke defense, then that will definitely pose problems for Kentucky. I’m also intrigued by the possible matchup between Sulaimon and senior Julius Mays on the perimeter. Mays shot the ball well from three (.600%) in the Wildcats’ two exhibition games so Duke will certainly have to know where he is at all times. In the end, I think the experienced Duke bigs, with some timely outside shooting, will be too much for the Wildcats.” Prediction: Duke 82-71
In regards to the point guard play for Duke, between Tyler Thornton (probable starter) and Quinn Cook, who will have the better game tomorrow night?
Mike Kline: “I say Thornton will get the nod due to his experience over Cook, but I think Quinn responds with a better game. I expect them both to take better care of the ball. When speaking about Cook, I expect him to be smart but aggressive and set up the offense and increase the number of assists. I’m taking Duke to win a close. I think the combination of Mason Plumlee’s improvement and ability to control Nerlens Noel will give Duke the edge in the paint. I think Kentucky’s lack of veteran leadership and shaky point guard play is also a problem for them. As long as Duke executes on defense and rebounds well, I think they get enough points. Control the tempo and don’t let the Kentucky horses run!” Prediction: Duke 72-67
When you look at both the Duke and Kentucky rosters, in your opinion what is the key matchup that could help determine the final outcome?
Wayne Bumpass: “I feel the key matchup will be Mason Plumlee and Nerlens Noel. Whichever guy can stay out of foul trouble will go a long ways in determining the winner. Kentucky needs Noel to protect the paint on the defensive end and on the glass. If he’s out, it opens up the inside a little bit and makes it easier for Duke to rebound, get second chance points and score the basketball. Same deal for Kentucky if Plumlee is out. I think Duke wins a close game.” Prediction: Duke 70-65
What is the Crazie-Talk prediction for Tuesdaynight’s matchup?
Crazie-Talk.com: “Duke wins in a tight one. Kentucky will do well up front, but has no answer for Duke’s bevy of guards. The Plumlee/Noel matchup will be fun.” Prediction: Duke 75-70
What’re your thoughts on the Duke/Kentucky game? Who wins and why?
Craig Henderson: “Duke will get the win. More experience, fewer mistakes and the senior Plumlee outplays the freshman Noel. Key is to get Noel in foul trouble and his minutes limited.” Prediction: Duke 72-68
Varand Khachadouri: “Duke wins because of their experience and good disciplined play. Seth Curry will shoot it well and Mason Plumlee will rebound the basketball very well.” Prediction: Duke 77-65
Chris Heery: “Duke. Afraid of an ugly game though. Kentucky lacks a potent reliable scoring threat. Duke needs to win the defensive rebounding battle.” Prediction: Duke 76-71
Brady Buck: “It’s going to be a dandy. I think Duke prevails in a tight one. That’s contingent on the amount of minutes that redshirt freshman Alex Murphy plays though.” Prediction: Duke 61-57
Song Mi Cash: “Duke will win this one, only because Kentucky is so young and most of their main contributors are freshmen. However, Duke must make their three’s. Kentucky is huge on the inside and I’m not sure that Mason Plumlee can handle them by himself. If not, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kentucky gets the win.” Prediction: Duke 82-80
Big Blue Nation
Obviously the main story coming out of Kentucky’s victory over Maryland on Friday night was the stellar play from junior Jarrod Polson. With the news that Ryan Harrow will miss Tuesday night’s game against Duke due to fatigue from the flu, do you think Polson can have a repeat performance and help lead Kentucky to victory?
Kentucky Women’s Soccer Player Erin Ashley Simon: “It’s possible that Polson can have a repeat performance from Friday. Polson stood up and took a “leadership” position during that game. Even though that was his big-time game, Polson has experience, understands Coach Cal’s expectations, fan’s expectations and can handle the pressure. What he learned from last year’s title run, he can use to help the younger guys who’ve never played against teams like Duke. One thing no one can take away from him is his hardwork and I’m sure we will continue to see that from him on the court. To be honest, if it wasn’t for Polson and how he played Friday, Kentucky probably would not have won that game. And I think he can be a player that can withstand a lot of pressure. It is amazing to see what he did with his first big opportunity, and I think we will see more of that from him in the immediate future. For the game against Duke, if Kentucky is careful with the ball and Polson can elevate the team, they can get the victory.” Prediction: Kentucky 72-68
What do you think will be the deciding difference for Duke to get the win? Experience?
Clay Johnson: “Yeah. I mean it’s cliche, but this team (Kentucky) is so young and still just learning how to talk to each other on the floor. I think Coach K will have his team much further along than Kentucky will be. UK will probably revert to bad habits and struggle to play as a team, and I believe Duke will expoit that and win handily.” Predicition: Duke 71-59
How does Kentucky beat Duke on Tuesday night?
Trei Tackett: “It all depends on Kentucky’s offensive efficiency. If they turn the ball over as much as they did in their first two exhibition games (31 combined), they have no chance. Also, their defense will have to close out on shooters. Duke won’t be able to score in the lane very easily but if they get open looks from the perimeter then the three’s will rain. However, with this being a big stage environment for both teams, I look for a break out performance from freshman Archie Goodwin. Kentucky wins on a last second shot.” Prediction: Kentucky 75-73
How do you see this marquee matchup playing out in the end?
Brad Carper: “It seems like it will be one of those games that will come down to the final possession. I like Duke to win a close one, just because of their experience. Now if Austin Rivers returned to Duke and took the majority of the shots, then I would probably lean towards a Kentucky win.” Prediction: Duke 61-59
On a national stage against Duke in arguably one of the most anticipated games of the year, how do you think the Kentucky freshman will respond against the experienced Blue Devils?
Stacey Wells: “It’s experience versus talent! Kentucky’s freshman class proved last year that pure talent can win and bring championships. However, playing Duke so early in the season may not give us the victory as our team is still learning. Still yet, we have a great team with an even greater coaching staff and I’m picking Kentucky to beat Duke en route to our 9th championship.” Prediction: Kentucky 87-85
In your opinion, what is the main key that could have the biggest impact on the outcome of the game?
Greg Cherry: “Rebounding is going to be the biggest key to the game. If Kentucky gives up 28 offensive rebounds as they did against Maryland, Duke blows them out. Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee will take advantage of rebounding mistakes and kill you on the glass if given the opportunity. If Kentucky’s perimeter players can guard dribble penetration and keep the ball out of the paint, it keeps Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein from both being out of position and giving up easy put backs. If Kentucky wins the rebounding battle, then they will win the game.” Prediction:Kentucky 73-69
By Chad Lykins
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