The Morning After: Duke (Champions Classic)

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Photos by Chet White | UK Athletics

College basketball is back! Kentucky dropped the first game of the season to the Duke Blue Devils in what felt like a mid-season game.

It is disappointing for the Cats to lose to Puke, and while you can find reasons to be pessimistic about this team, I saw a lot of positives from the game.

Let’s take a look.

Inside-Out Duo

Two players recorded a double-double in their Kentucky debuts, Sahvir Wheeler and Oscar Tshiebwe. Wheeler recorded 16 points and 10 assists and Tshiebwe contributed with 17 points and 19 rebounds.

Wheeler and Tshiebwe are a rare inside-out duo that Kentucky has not had since John Wall and Demarcus Cousins back in 2009. While they aren’t as talented or athletic, they are more experienced in the college game.

These two, most notably Wheeler, were the leaders on the floor last night and while they may not be our two best players at the end of the season, their leadership on the floor will be key.

Modernized Offense

6-11. That is Kentucky’s clip from three in the first half of last night’s game, and that is something I am not sure I would ever see in the Calipari era.

This team has no shortage of shooters and had 4 different players making a three, not including two of the best shooters on the roster, Dontaie Allen and CJ Fredrick.

First Half on the Left, Second Half on the Right
Black=Made White=Miss

Kentucky also looked to have the use the pick and roll option more than in previous seasons, this allowed Oscar to have really good inside opportunities or have the ability to kick out to a shooter.

With that being said, Kentucky still shot their share of terrible mid-range jumpers, especially in the second half and that needs to stop immediately.

It is promising to see Calipari finally modernizing the offense and the difference can already be seen.

TyTy Washington has to be better

9 points, shooting 3-14 from the field was not the ideal debut for TyTy Washington.

After looking like a smooth criminal and leading the team in points in both exhibition games, it was not TyTy’s night. Washington looked to have put a lot of pressure on himself, causing him to play tense and forcing the issue.

The good thing is, we have already seen what he can do and this shouldn’t be an issue going forward. Not to mention, as a freshman, he will definitely improve over the course of the season and I fully anticipate on him being our best player.

This Team Is Different and They Are Going to Be Fun

From the tip, it was noticeable that this team is not built like most Kentucky teams. This team is not uber-athletic nor loaded with NBA talent as Calipari’s teams of the past, but they are deep, gritty, and experienced.

The Cats fought back from a 15 point lead to nearly take the lead late in the second half against Duke, who looks like to be a top 5 team in the country. How can you not be proud of that performance?

Last night was the first time since the 2019-20 season that I caught myself smiling and genuinely enjoying watching a good Kentucky basketball team and I am excited.

Conclusion

When you look at the box score, Kentucky looked really good in comparison. The Cats outrebounded Duke by 8, had 15 assists to Duke’s 7, hit 6 more threes, and took 17 more shots.

At the end of the day, Duke had the best two players on the floor in Paolo Banchero and Trevor Keels and while they received some assistance from the referees, that is what made the difference and they deserved to win.

Kentucky’s weakness in most games will defin be the frontcourt, but the backcourt has the ability to make up for that.

After not seeing an NCAA tournament in 2019-20 and a putrid 2020-21 season, it is good to have a talented Kentucky team back in college basketball.

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