NCAA Basketball KENTUCKY WILDCATS (2-0) vs. DUKE BLUE DEVILS (2-0) Betting Odds

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No. 2 Kentucky and No. 5, defending national champion Duke add another chapter in their limited, but storied history, as they square off Tuesday for the second time in the Champions Classic since 2012.


Sportsbook.ag Line: Kentucky -1.5, Total: 156.5

Two of the biggest heavyweights in modern college basketball tip off in the fifth cycle of the Champions Classic -- they also met in 2012 in this same venue -- when Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils face Coach John Calipari’s Wildcats. This matchup of two blue-blood programs features one of the most memorable moments in college sports: Christian Laettner’s buzzer beater in the 1992 Elite Eight. Krzyzewski is 2-0 versus Calipari, most recently winning 75-68 as a 4.5-point favorite over Kentucky in 2012 after defeating Calipari’s Memphis squad in 2005. Overall, Duke holds a 3-1 edge (2-2 ATS) since 1998 over the Wildcats.

As is the norm, both coaches reloaded through recruiting after losing three top-6 draft picks in Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley Stein for Kentucky and Jahlil Okafor for Duke. These Tuesday combatants are on a short list of programs who can stay in the top-five of preseason polls while relying on the successes of “one-and-done” freshmen.

The defending national champion Blue Devils will look to repeat their sterling non-conference performance from last season (19-0 SU, 14-5 ATS). The Wildcats famously went undefeated SU last season until succumbing to a relentless Wisconsin squad in the Final Four. While that was their only non-conference loss of the season, they did struggle to cover consistently against non-SEC opponents (9-9 ATS) albeit against spreads that predominantly had Kentucky as overwhelming favorites.

Current NBA-ers Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein and Archie Goodwin were key names for Kentucky the last time they played the Blue Devils in 2012, but the leading scorer for the Wildcats that night was then-freshman, now-senior PF Alex Poythress (5.5. PPG, 3.8 RPG), who scored 20 points. The player once talked about as a lottery pick, Poythress has a large leadership role, but has only 5.5 PPG and 5.0 RPG in 16.0 MPG in two games this season. The Wildcats in the headlines will, unsurprisingly, be three universally lauded freshmen (F Skal Labissiere, G Jamal Murray, and G Isaiah Briscoe).

Labissiere (17.5 PPG, 77% FG, 5.0 RPG, 3.0 BPG) is mentioned as a lock for a lottery pick and possibly the top pick overall. Murray (13.5 PPG, 5.0 APG, 4.0 RPG, 2.0 SPG) has the innate scoring skills and size of an NBA-ready off-guard. Briscoe (11 points, 12 rebounds on Saturday) is a fearless metro New York product built like an NFL running back at 6-foot-3, 202 pounds.

That said, Kentucky's most indispensable player and on-floor leader will be diminutive sophomore G Tyler Ulis (8.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.5 APG). Ulis is a natural pass-first guard who dented a star-studded roster for 24 minutes per game last season, but has already logged 68 minutes over two lopsided wins. As Calipari’s rotations were famous for finding playing time for 10 players in 2014-15, Ulis will most definitely get all the work he can handle this time around.

Flying under the radar is junior F Marcus Lee (11.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 3.0 BPG), who will need to fill big shoes around the rim for the departed Towns and Cauley-Stein. Calipari doesn’t expect Lee to make a huge dent in the scoring column, but does expect Lee to prevent Kentucky’s dominant defense from 2014-15 from dropping off too steeply. There’s not much doubt that the Wildcats will still be able to score, but their ability to maintain their suffocating defense will determine how effective Duke will be Tuesday evening.

While Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Tyus Jones are indeed gone, and the Blue Devils aren’t quite as well-versed in replacing “one-and-done’s” as Kentucky is, Duke has done well to re-stock the cupboard and prime itself for a title defense. It will be tough for the Blue Devils to regain the offensive wizardry they exhibited for large stretches last season (79.3 PPG, 6th NCAA; 50.2% FG, 3rd in nation).

As good as lottery picks Okafor and Winslow were, the lack of a true point guard to fill Jones’ spot in the lineup might be the biggest hurdle to this current team. Duke was 13th in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, and Jones also was extremely clutch late in close games. Looking to take over for Jones is another promising sophomore, G Grayson Allen (27.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 4.0 APG), who is a player widely expect to flourish (like Ulis) with a bigger role. Allen famously exploded in the national title game with 16 points against Wisconsin and has made 16-of-31 FG (5-of-12 threes) and 17-of-18 FT so far this season. While not a natural point guard, Krzyzewski knows he has to create more opportunities for the explosive Allen to put his talents to use.

Flanking Allen in the starting lineup will be highly-touted freshman F Brandon Ingram (18.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG), a lanky and smooth scoring forward in a Kevin Durant-esque mold. Ingram, along with returnees, C Marshall Plumlee (6.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG) and F Amile Jefferson (15.0 PPG, 11.5 RPG) provide for a promising frontcourt. Jefferson has made 12-of-18 FG (67%) this season and has more offensive rebounds (13) than defensive boards (10).

Steady junior G Matt Jones (14.5 PPG, 65% FG) looks ahead to consistent starting minutes for the Blue Devils as well, but will be pushed by freshmen sharpshooting lefty, G Luke Kennard (10.0 PPG, 53% FG), and freshman G Derryck Thornton (4.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3.5 APG), who is the only “true point guard” on the roster. Thornton is about the only player on the team struggling with his shot, as Duke is knocking down 50% FG and 37% threes despite Thornton making only 18% FG (3-of-17) and 1-of-6 threes.




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