UK Men's Basketball

How Kentucky and Duke match up — with a game prediction

Kentucky Wildcats guard Tyler Ulis (3) and Jamal Murray, left, enjoyed the final minutes as Kentucky defeated Kentucky State University 111-58 on Friday November 6, 2015 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats guard Tyler Ulis (3) and Jamal Murray, left, enjoyed the final minutes as Kentucky defeated Kentucky State University 111-58 on Friday November 6, 2015 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

How Kentucky and Duke match up for Tuesday night’s game in Chicago:

Small forward

At 6-foot-4, 207 pounds, Kentucky’s Jamal Murray is the largest of the three guards who are expected to be mainstays in John Calipari’s starting lineup this season. In UK’s first two games, the freshman from Kitchener, Ontario, has not had his shot dialed in (11-of-28 field goals, 3-of-15 three-pointers) but has flashed his ample versatility (averaging 13.5 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists).

Brandon Ingram’s stock rose throughout his senior year of high school last season, and the Kinston, N.C., product became the subject of a fierce recruiting battle between North Carolina and Duke that was won by the Blue Devils. A McDonald’s All-American, the 6-9, 190-pound freshman is reputed to have guard skills to go with a 7-3 wingspan. After making only five of 16 shots in Duke’s opening victory over Siena, Ingram hit seven of 11 and scored 21 points in the Devils’ blowout of Bryant.

Advantage: Even

Power forward

Though UK’s Marcus Lee is shooting better from the field (60 percent) than the foul line (44.4) through two games, the bouncy 6-9, 224-pound junior is off to a strong start. The Antioch, Calif., product is averaging 11 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots. It will be interesting to see if Lee can make an offensive impact against a foe the quality of Duke.

Late in last season’s NCAA championship game, Amile Jefferson’s denial defense against Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky was pivotal in the Blue Devils’ 68-63 victory. A 6-9, 225-pound senior from Philadelphia, Jefferson is averaging 15 points and has hit 12 of 18 field goals this season.

Advantage: Duke

Center

Living up to his billing as the most offensively skilled big man to arrive at Kentucky in the John Calipari era, Skal Labissiere drained an array of mid-range jump shots against the New Jersey Institute of Technology and hit 10 of 12 field goals and six of six free throws to score 26 points. For the willowy, 6-11, 225-pound freshman, the question will be how he reacts against physical defensive tactics — which Duke figures to employ.

Marshall Plumlee is the third of the Plumlee brothers from Warsaw, Ind., to man the post for Duke. A 7-foot, 250-pound senior, Plumlee brings a physical presence for the Blue Devils. A Duke ROTC student, Plumlee has already committed to join the U.S. Army as an officer after college. This year, Plumlee has taken only four shots in Duke’s first two games but has averaged 8.5 rebounds and 2 blocked shots.

Advantage: Kentucky

Shooting guard

After missing Kentucky’s opening victory over Albany with a bruised knee, Isaiah Briscoe more than made up for lost time with 11 points and 12 rebounds against NJIT. If the 6-3, 202-pound Union, N.J., product is called upon to guard Duke star Grayson Allen it will be a huge challenge for a player in his second college game.

Though he played a limited role most of last season, Duke’s Allen was the star of the Blue Devils’ NCAA title victory over Wisconsin. He scored 16 points against the Badgers in 21 minutes, and launched the second-half run that propelled Duke to victory by scoring eight points in less than a minute. A 6-5, 205-pound sophomore from Jacksonville, Fla., Allen has started the current season scalding hot, scoring 26 points against Siena and 28 vs. Bryant.

Advantage: Duke

Point guard

Last season as a freshman, Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis showed great command on big stages. Ulis’ clutch shooting helped UK break open a tight game in a hostile environment at archrival Louisville. The little guard’s corner trey launched a Wildcats comeback that overcame Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament round of eight. With Andrew Harrison gone to pro basketball, the 5-9, 160-pound Ulis is now the undisputed Kentucky “quarterback.” The sophomore has not shot the ball well so far (5-of-17 field goals) but tends to make shots in games where it matters.

When class of 2016 recruit Derryck Thornton reclassified to 2015 and signed with Duke, it was expected he would replace the one-and-done Tyus Jones as Duke’s starting point guard. However, so far this season, Mike Krzyzewski has gone with 6-5 junior Matt Jones. Not a traditional “one guard,” Jones was a key contributor for Duke in last season’s NCAA tourney. He hit four three-pointers in the round of eight victory over Gonzaga. In the NCAA championship game, he played dogged defense on Wisconsin star Sam Dekker. Not surprisingly, Jones has done more scoring (14.5 ppg) than distributing (four total assists) in the first two games this season.

Advantage: Kentucky

Bench

Bullitt East product Derek Willis has been the pleasant surprise of the early Kentucky season. The 6-9, 220-pound junior has hit eight of 12 field goals and five of nine three-pointers and scored as many points (25) in two games as he did all last year. The next step for Willis will be to play effectively against a marquee foe such as Duke. As a freshman three years ago, Alex Poythress had, arguably, the best game of his UK career against Duke, scoring 20 points and grabbing eight rebounds in a 75-68 loss. Returning from the torn ACL that ended his junior season, the 6-8, 230-pound senior from Clarksville, Tenn., is averaging 5.5 points and 5 rebounds. It will be interesting to see if John Calipari trusts freshman big man Isaac Humphries, freshman swingman Charles Matthews and junior-college shooting guard Mychal Mulder to play in a game this big.

Luke Kennard grew up in a family of Kentucky fans in Franklin, Ohio, but chose Duke over UK in recruiting. A noted marksman in high school (38.4 ppg as a senior), the 6-5 freshman has yet to find the range on his three-point shot (2-of-8 so far) but has scored in other ways (10 ppg). Another highly touted freshman guard, Derryck Thornton, has struggled. The 6-2, 175-pound Findlay Prep (Nev.) product went 3-of-17 from the field in Duke’s first two games. Yet a third freshman, 6-10, 240-pound Chase Jeter, is Duke’s primary front-line reserve. A Las Vegas product, Jeter is averaging 5 points and 4.5 rebounds.

Advantage: Kentucky

Intangibles

In his iconic Duke coaching career, Mike Krzyzewski has long had Kentucky’s number. Under Coach K, Duke is 5-1 against UK and has won three in a row. Overall, Duke has beaten Kentucky seven out of the last eight. As a result, UK’s all-time lead in the series against the Blue Devils has dwindled to 11-9. UK veterans such as Ulis, Poythress, Lee and Willis might be able to motivate off the fact that Duke won the 2015 NCAA championship that Kentucky, in the midst of winning its first 38 games last season, had believed was its destiny to claim.

Advantage: Kentucky

Prediction

Kentucky 82, Duke 79

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