Men’s basketball Duke set for season opener against Kentucky at Madison Square Garden



Here. We. Go.

Mark your calendars; Tuesday’s blue blood clash in the Big Apple promises to be spicy, full of top players, coaches and vibe.

Basketball is back, and with it comes an exciting opening day between two game giants. It’s No.9 Duke vs. No.10 Kentucky, Mike Krzyzewski vs. John Calipari. As the Blue Devils gear up for a trial by fire after a resounding victory in an exhibition game against Winston-Salem State, there are plenty of stories to follow and plenty of star names to watch. Without further ado, here are five things to look for as Duke takes on Kentucky at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.

Pastures of yesteryear

In the bizarre 2020-21 basketball landscape that saw Baylor win their first-ever national championship and the UCLA No.11 run from Cinderella to the Final Four, many traditional powers have seen seasons relatively low, especially in North Carolina, Virginia and, as appropriate. here, Duke and Kentucky. The Blue Devils finished 13-11 and 10th in the ACC, while the Wildcats suffered one of only two losing seasons since the Great Depression with a 9-16 overall record and an eighth-place finish in the SEC.

Many people closely involved with NCAA basketball don’t anticipate this year to be a similar story for either program and expect both to come out of the fire, match classes of recruiting killers, awesome veterans and top coaches. Duke, as always (and for the last time), has Krzyzewski on the sidelines alongside pending coach Jon Scheyer, associate head coach Chris Carrawell and assistant coach Nolan Smith, while Kentucky John Calipari account and two new coaching transfers to Orlando Antigua. and Chin Coleman of Illinois Staff 2020-21. Both programs landed five-star recruiting classes and added experienced transfers like Theo John (Duke) of Marquette and Sahvir Wheeler (Kentucky) of Georgia, so there’s no reason to believe this season, and this game. , will not be a return to something closer to the status quo. Tuesday’s showdown won’t be between two struggling teams, but a clash between titans willing and able to reassert themselves at the top of the NCAA pyramid.

Fierce freshman

If there’s one thing Duke and Kentucky have been really good at in recent years, it’s recruiting. The Blue Devils are filled with projected lottery picks Paolo Banchero and AJ Griffin, as well as freshman guards Trevor Keels and Jaylen Blakes. The Wildcats enter this year with an equally impressive class, including five-star prospects Tyty Washington Jr. and Daimion Collins. Both programs have an enviable depth of freshman talent and Tuesday could prove to be the first real look we’ll have at these players and what they can offer their respective teams.

“We’re all excited to play, but remind the guys it’s still basketball and that doesn’t change. [My goal is] keeping everyone cool and calm, ”said Duke’s senior captain Joey Baker of how he’s helping prepare for the freshman.“ I think our guys are really on their nerves and are ready for the spotlight, so we’re in a good position. But however I can help, I just make them feel comfortable, I do whatever I can. “

On Duke’s side, apparently everyone knows Banchero and expects him to light up the NCAA, but the other Blue Devils rookies are more than enough talent to win games and do it convincingly. Kentucky, perhaps to a lesser extent, is in a similar position. With a Wildcat program renowned for welcoming top-tier freshmen and turning them into NBA-ready superstars in a year (Anthony Davis case), Calipari knows how to deal with youngsters. Madison Square Garden is the first arena for these starlets to emerge, so keep an eye out for the fierce freshmen both programs boast of.


In conjunction with the elite recruiting classes comes the departure of last year’s roster, and both teams have a new look. Staff turnover isn’t just a bone of contention in college sports, for both of these teams it’s an annual event.

“It’s really difficult because obviously we don’t know what [Kentucky does] like a team at the moment, ”said Duke junior Wendell Moore Jr.“ We watched a few of their exhibits as they did with us, so this is really the first game for both teams against. an opponent is going to be a little more difficult because we don’t know what they are going to do. We can know their staff from what they have shown in other schools, but this is really the first time that they play together as a team.

Exhibition or practice matches are one thing, but the big stage is another. Madison Square Garden hosts both teams’ first real chance to show their mettle, so expect a bit of rust and less smoothness than we normally expected. They are two young, talented and dynamic teams who always try to understand each other, and Tuesday is as much about the result as it is about creating a team identity.

The Banchero show

As apparently everyone knows at this point, Paolo Banchero is really good at basketball. The Seattle, Washington native lost 21 points and a performance worthy of the best moments against Winston-Salem State and has all the makings of a superstar. He turns crowds on with his ridiculous jumps, powerful slam-dunks, and hunger for the ball, making him one of the NCAA’s players to watch.

ESPN Analyst Myron Medcalf summed up Banchero in a way many would agree with: “Maybe [he’s] the difference this season – that despite the talent pools in Kansas and Gonzaga or depth in Texas, none of that will matter this season because Duke has Paolo and you don’t.

It might be an easy fruit to suggest that Banchero is one to watch or that he’s hot, but it’s true. All eyes will be on the young superstar’s performance against Kentucky, just as they were for the Winston-Salem State game, Countdown to Crazy and her senior year of high school. Only Banchero has the talent and the ability to win games for the Blue Devils, and whether or not that is the case on Tuesday, we’ll have to wait and see. Either way, he’s the poster boy for this blockbuster contest and his performance will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the outcome.

Full house

“This is New York City,” Baker said. “It’s the buzz in the arena. It has been a long time since we played in front of a full house so I can’t even describe how excited I and the rest of the team are to play there on Tuesday. It is a special place.

For the majority of players on the Duke and Kentucky field on Tuesday, this will be their first competitive basketball experience with fans in attendance. Madison Square Garden is a grand venue for a season opener, and the authentic sound of the crowd will be a welcome addition for players and fans alike. No amount of pumped-out cheers can complement the excited cries of die-hard fans or the harassing antics of the crowd trying to disrupt a free throw – Tuesday will have it all for good.

“I think part of playing in these big games, especially in the past, is how much stronger it is than anything they’ve known,” said Baker. “Jeremy [Roach] and Marc [Williams] never really had the opportunity to experience a sold-out arena or anything like that – our freshmen too. So making sure they know it’s going to be packed, it’s going to be loud and rowdy and we can’t let that shake us up. We need to stay together, improve our communication and play basketball. Just make sure they’re aware it’s going to be loud in there. They are great basketball players, so they will be ready to play.


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