The first night of the college basketball season will deliver fans a real treat Tuesday in Indianapolis, where the latest edition of the Champions Classic features a doubleheader starting with No. 1 Kansas against No. 10 Michigan State before the main event: No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 4 Duke.
The Wildcats and Blue Devils bring in the country’s top two recruiting classes this season, and — for a change — UK will actually possess the most experience in this blue-blood matchup.
The Herald-Leader asked dozens of college basketball media members to handicap the latest Kentucky-Duke matchup, and here’s what they’re thinking as the two teams head into their season opener Tuesday night:
Jerry Tipton, Herald-Leader: Kentucky 72, Duke 65 — This is extremely difficult to do with any confidence. The combination of an opening game, dependence on multiple freshmen for both teams and reaction to high drama makes for an intriguing plunge into the unknown. UK’s veteran players can be the difference.
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John Clay, Herald-Leader: Kentucky 75, Duke 66 — Could be a different result in March when Duke’s rookies mature. This isn’t March.
Ben Roberts, Herald-Leader: Kentucky 79, Duke 65 — The timing couldn’t be any better for the Cats, who get this young Duke team before it figures out how to best deploy its uber-talented lineup. UK rolls Tuesday night. Could be a different story in March.
Jonathan Alexander, Raleigh News & Observer: Kentucky 82, Duke 77 — I think there is too much uncertainty surrounding the newness of Duke’s team this season. Its freshmen are without a doubt talented, but its top returning scorer, Marques Bolden, averaged only 3.9 points per game last season. It may take this team some time to figure it out.
Darrell Bird, The Cats’ Pause: Kentucky 85, Duke 83 — In these huge non-conference games Kentucky plays each year, it’s odd to see the other team as the one possibly starting five freshmen. No way to know what’s going to happen, but the players know each other well and that will lead to a competitive, spirited battle. UK’s experience with Reid Travis and the three sophomores prevail in the end.
Jeff Borzello, ESPN: Kentucky 82, Duke 80 — Both coaches seem awfully excited about their teams heading into the season — something you might not expect given the number of freshmen on each side. But in the opening game of the season, I’ll go with the team that has some semblance of experience, and that’s Kentucky. To me, Reid Travis is being overlooked heading into the season, and I think he’ll be the difference.
Eric Bossi, Rivals.com: Kentucky 87, Duke 82 — I like Kentucky’s depth and versatility. Duke’s trio of RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cameron Reddish can score but UK’s depth and what I think will be a more productive interior game gives them the edge. I think it will be high scoring, and I’m looking forward to being in the building.
Rick Bozich, WDRB: Kentucky 81, Duke 74 — Kentucky is young. Duke is younger. Kentucky guards. Duke thinks about guarding.
Curtis Burch, Big Blue Insider: Kentucky 80, Duke 68 — PJ Washington, Reid Travis and Nick Richards dominate inside, and the game isn’t in doubt in the second half.
Luke DeCock, Raleigh News & Observer: Duke 80, Kentucky 77 — All the attention is on Zion Williamson, but RJ Barrett may be the best player in the country.
Mike DeCourcy, The Sporting News: Kentucky 78, Duke 74 — It’s not easy to make a prediction with such limited information, but I think Kentucky’s advantages in experience and depth give the Wildcats an advantage. Anyone willing to wager real money at this stage, though, is either bold or loopy.
Jeff Drummond, Cats Illustrated: Kentucky 74, Duke 70 — I think we’re going to see at least one of the Blue Devils’ big three freshmen explode for a huge game, but the Cats win a close one thanks to better depth and a strong performance from Reid Travis. The first of many double-doubles for the graduate transfer leads the way to a UK win.
Scott Fowler, The Charlotte Observer: Duke 93, Kentucky 90 — After making the pilgrimage to watch Zion Williamson play while he was still in high school, I became a convert. And not just because of the dunks. The Wildcats — and most of college basketball — won’t be able to handle him.
Dick Gabriel, Big Blue Insider: Kentucky 82, Duke 78 — Kentucky’s freshmen will go all out to prove they’re the better recruiting class. Plus — Reid Travis.
John Gasaway, ESPN: Kentucky 77, Duke 70 — Wildcats win with experience over a younger opponent projected to do even better than UK in the ensuing NBA Draft. Now we’ve seen everything.
Jeff Goodman, WatchStadium.com: Kentucky 72, Duke 67 — Kentucky is young, but Duke is younger. I picked the Cats to win it all. I think they have everything, and while they will have their ups and downs, this won’t be one of their downs.
Jon Hale, Courier Journal: Kentucky 85, Duke 70 — John Calipari’s best teams generally post elite performances when players feel like they have something to prove or are challenged. Having veterans will be key in this opener, but expect Keldon Johnson to have a big game, too, as he works to prove Duke’s more highly touted freshmen should not have been ranked ahead of him.
Matt Jones, Kentucky Sports Radio: Kentucky 77, Duke 71 — This game will be very competitive and no result will really surprise me, but I will take the Cats due to their depth and ability to wear down Duke’s elite starting five.
Mark Mathis, Messenger-Inquirer: Kentucky 85, Duke 83 — Duke has the three best freshmen, but Kentucky may have the experience edge, as rare as that usually is. Reid Travis, PJ Washington, Nick Richards could be the difference for the Wildcats.
Myron Medcalf, ESPN: Kentucky 77, Duke 72 — I’ve had the privilege of traveling to both Lexington and Durham to watch both Kentucky and Duke during the preseason. I really like both teams, but I just think Duke, with its multiple elite wings, has more to figure out with its rotation at this point. With that stacked frontcourt and the athletes on the perimeter, the Wildcats can just go out there and ball and get a win in the first game of the year without being a finished product.
Matt Norlander, CBS Sports: Kentucky 83, Duke 76 — What a terrific way to start the season. I trust Kentucky to be more cohesive and defensively sound from the jump. That will play a part. Reid Travis goes for 16 and 12, and UK is never threatened in the second half.
Dana O’Neil, The Athletic: Kentucky 82, Duke 74 — As exciting as the Blue Devils freshmen are, there’s nothing to make up for experience, especially early in the year and in a game of this magnitude. For the first time in a long time, the Wildcats have the edge on maturity, an advantage I believe will carry them a long way this season.
Gary Parrish, CBS Sports: Kentucky 74, Duke 71 — This early in the season I’m compelled to take the team with key players who have already operated at the Division I level, Kentucky is that team. Duke is not. So I’ll go with the Wildcats in a close one.
Adam Rowe, The Devils Den: Kentucky 82, Duke 74 — This Kentucky team has what Duke doesn’t: experienced players who have contributed in a meaningful way in big games. Neither of these teams are what they will be at the end of the season, but pitting the two most high profile teams in the sport together in the season opener is great for the sport. Just don’t take too much from it.
Tim Sullivan, Courier Journal: Kentucky 77, Duke 71 — By March, this game may be just a blip — at least by Coach K’s broad definition — but it seems pretty significant now. The Blue Devils might be better by the spring, but UK starts the season with a more seasoned lineup.
Derek Terry, The Cats’ Pause: Kentucky 79, Duke 70 — RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson have their moments, but UK’s depth ensures the Cats prevail.
Kyle Tucker, The Athletic: Kentucky 78, Duke 70 — Remember that time a blue blood signed basically nothing but five-star forwards and it was kind of a mess most of the season? That was Kentucky last year, and it’s Duke this year. I’m still skeptical of how RJ, Zion and Cam fit (and how their egos will mesh) — as insanely talented as they are — and I like both the fit of UK’s pieces and the presence of some experience in a season opener.
Larry Vaught, Vaught’s Views: Kentucky 80, Duke 72 — I think Kentucky has a little more experience and more depth that will pay off here. I also think Reid Travis will wear down Duke inside.
John Watson, The Devils Den: Kentucky 78, Duke 74 — It’s a tough one because Duke will have at least two or three of the best players on the court with Barrett, Reddish, and Williamson — all players who chose the Blue Devils over UK. However, for an early season test I think Kentucky’s experience and ability to rebound coupled with Duke’s entire starting lineup making its debut combine to give the Wildcats a close victory. If these teams meet later in the season, however, I think Duke wins comfortably as roles will be more clearly defined and familiarity will have settled in.
Brant Wilkerson-New, Greensboro News & Record: Kentucky 81, Duke 75 — The Blue Devils have almost everything, including a generational talent in Zion Williamson, but the Cats have the one thing Duke doesn’t in experience. It’ll be an excellent showcase for youth until crunch time, when Nick Richards and Reid Travis prove to be too much for Duke’s thin front line and Kentucky pulls away late.
Dan Wolken, USA Today: Kentucky 62, Duke 57 — It’s usually safer to back the more experienced team in early-season basketball games, and because Kentucky has more guys back who know what this is all about they’ll probably take this meeting.
Adam Zagoria, ZagsBlog.com: Kentucky 73, Duke 70 — RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson will go ahead of any Kentucky player in the NBA Draft, but Kentucky’s experience helps pull this one out down the stretch.