Duke Beat: Kentucky Provides Early Season Test

Duke doesn’t have a lot of time to dissect their 19 point victory over Georgia State, because their next opponent is just a tad better than the Panthers.

There was good and bad that could be taken from the Blue Devil’s game against Georgia State but one thing is for certain, if Duke is to have a shot of beating the defending national champions they are going to have to play substantially better.

The game provides an interesting challenge, and when you look at the matchups you have to think Duke has a pretty reasonable chance of pulling the upset, though Kentucky will likely be the favorite and the Wildcats have some things that play in their favor.

For starters Duke will not be playing in the friendly confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium. The game is being played in SEC territory in Atlanta, and you can pretty much count on there being a large, if not dominant, contingent of Kentucky fans filling the Georgia Dome.

Duke is also going to have to be much better in several aspect of the game itself if they want to win.

The Blue Devils are going to have to do a much better job of rebounding. They were out rebounded in their game against Georgia State, a team whose largest player was 6-foot-10, and he wasn’t even a starter.

Duke was also failed to dominate the boards in both their exhibition games against teams that had no one near the size of the Blue Devils starting front line of Mason Plumlee (6-foot-10) and Ryan Kelly (6-foot-11).

Kentucky has a much taller front court and it is more athletic. If the Blue Devils allow the Wildcats to dominate the glass, especially on the offensive end, it could be a particularly long night for Duke.

Another area of concern has to be Duke’s assist to turnover ratio. Against Georgia State, Duke had 17 total assists and 15 turnovers, not nearly good enough to win a tight game. The Blue Devils have to take better care of the basketball, especially their guards.

Perhaps the biggest battle to watch, though, will be between Duke senior Mason Plumlee and Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel.

Plumlee posted a double-double (19 points, 14 rebounds) in his season opener. Noel wasn’t exactly Anthony Davis, scoring only 4 points, though he did have 9 rebounds and three blocks.  Still as highly regarded as Noel is, Plumlee should be able to dominate the physical battle down low, and that should be an advantage for Duke.

Another area that will be interesting to watch is the battle at point guard. Kentucky was expecting Ryan Harrow to potentially be the guy that made the offense go, but that wasn’t the case against Maryland, as he only played 10 minutes.

And not having a standout point guard hurt, as Kentucky narrowly escaped an improving Terrapin squad. If the Wildcats can’t get Harrow or someone else to steer the ship they could struggle, especially against the Blue Devils’ improved perimeter defense.

Duke has two options at point guard with Tyler Thornton and Quinn Cook, so the advantage might have to go to the Blue Devils again.

The big question for Duke is, can they neutralize the more athletic Kentucky team? They will also have to try and keep Kyle Wiltjer in check. Wiltjer scored 19 points against the Terps, and it looks like perhaps the sophomore could be the go-to guy for the Wildcasts early.

If this game had been played last year, or if Kentucky wasn’t having to replace most of their team, I’d clearly give the advantage to them, but considering they are so young, lack a great point guard, and really struggled to slow down Maryland or score themselves, they could be vulnerable.

Kentucky has the advantage in terms of athletes, but Duke has the advantage in experience, and if this game comes down to Xs and Os, it goes without saying that the Blue Devils will have an advantage in that area.

Still, win or lose, this game will provide Duke with a benchmark that lets fans know if this team is truly better than last year, or pretty much the same.


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Duke Sports BlogMike Kline is the operator of DukeSportsBlog.com, a site dedicated to coverage and analysis of Duke Football and Basketball from a fan’s perspective. He is also a regular contributor for DukeReport.com. Mike does a monthly podcast with Jim Oliver of Duke Report focusing on Duke Basketball and occasionally football. Mike is a long time Duke football and basketball fan. A former journalist, Mike is now a mild mannered middle school teacher by day and blogger by night. Follow Mike on Twitter at @DukeBlogMKline

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