DURHAM — When Duke tips off against Kentucky at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday in Atlanta, it will be a study of contrasts, with youth taking on experience.
Kentucky is so young that the Blue Devils had to search for film to study as they prepared for their early season test against the freshman-heavy Wildcats.
We were even watching film of their Blue and White scrimmage, Mason Plumlee said. I dont think you can look at it and just define their team right away because it is so early in the season.
The No. 3-ranked Wildcats (1-0) start three top-rated freshmen in guard Archie Goodwin and forwards Nerlens Noel and Alex Poythress. Another highly touted newcomer, Willie Cauley-Stein, will see significant time as well.
No. 9 Duke (1-0) will counter with three starting seniors in Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry.
Older, really good players are the best thing a coach can have in college right now, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in the preseason. You always want the young, great player, but if the seniors are outstanding and they have game experience and are 22 or 23 years old, which our guys are, it gives a different dimension to your team.
When asked for thoughts about Duke, the first description Kentucky coach John Calipari used was veteran. Plumlee and Kelly played on Dukes 2010 national championship team, and Curry practiced with the group while sitting out after transferring from Liberty. Since then, there have been numerous other high-profile games for Duke upperclassmen.
In last seasons Champions Classic victory against Michigan State (more notable for being Krzyzewskis 903rd win, making him college basketballs all-time wins leader), Curry scored 20 points in Madison Square Garden. A few weeks later, in the Maui Invitational, Tyler Thornton, who will likely start at point guard, made two late 3-pointers to help beat Kansas.
The core of the Wildcats have only played in one college game, a 72-69 win over Maryland in Brooklyn last week. And Kentucky will likely play without starting guard Ryan Harrow, a former N.C. State player who has been unable to practice since the game because of flu-like symptoms. Harrow had blood work done Monday in an attempt to find out why he has been lacking energy.
As a sophomore, Harrow was one of the most seasoned Wildcats. The youngsters are still getting used to the college game setting.
I could feel the crowds vibrations and how loud it was, Cauley-Stein said about the Maryland game . It was my first time in a big college game like that, with all the people, and playing as a new center.
Cauley-Stein and fellow freshman Noel are key components of the Wildcats frontcourt, which struggled against the Terrapins. The Wildcats gave up 28 offensive rebounds to the Terrapins. Its a skill the group hadnt had time to practice outside of scrimmages.
There are so many things to work on because were freshmen that makes it hard, Calipari said. We thought, because were so big and long, well be able to rebound. Well, if you dont work on it, they dont know it.
The Wildcats rebounding woes provide an opportunity for Kelly and Plumlee. And while that pair attempts to control the low post, Curry and a few other veteran shooters will be waiting on the perimeter.
That thought, more than any other, doesnt sit well with Calipari.
If they come out and make 20 of 25 3s, were done, he said. Well come out and tap them on the butt and well go home.