Kentucky vs. Duke Champions Classic Preview and Best Bet

Mark Williams #15 of the Duke Blue Devils attempts a lay-up against the Louisville Cardinals on March 10, 2021. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images/AFP

What could be the farewell tour of all-time gets underway on Tuesday’s college basketball betting card when the Duke Blue Devils take on the Kentucky Wildcats in the second game of the Champions Classic.

Kentucky Wildcats vs. Duke Blue Devils

Tuesday, November 9, 2021 – 09:30 PM EST at Madison Square Garden

The start of any new season always finds the excitement level ramped up, and this clash of great programs takes that up another notch. Trumping everything about the contest is the fact that Mike Krzyzewski’s 42nd season as Duke head coach will be his last, and it only seems fitting Coach K’s final season should begin against John Calipari and Kentucky in the Champions Classic.

We also can’t help but wonder if this matchup isn’t a preview of a second meeting to come during March Madness with both teams among the favorites on the NCAA basketball futures. The Blue Devils, who come in ranked No. 9 in the preseason AP poll, are picked ahead of Florida State and North Carolina in the ACC, while the No. 10 Wildcats edge out Alabama to win the SEC.

Last Three Meetings Took Place in Champions Classic

Drawing the chalk line for this clash is Duke, the Blue Devils opening as 1-point favorites before the spread settled at -1.5 at FanDuel. Tuesday night’s scoreboard target is running between 147.5 and 149.5 at various shops.

This will be the 23rd meeting overall between the two programs, and Kentucky has a 12-10 edge. It is the fourth consecutive matchup between the two to take place at the Champions Classic, Duke winning two of the previous three. The Wildcats and Blue Devils are colliding on a neutral court for the 12th-straight time. Four of the last dozen encounters took place during the NCAA Men’s Tournament, including the 1978 Championship Game won by Kentucky.

It may have been just a little more than three years that Duke and Kentucky last met, though it seems much longer with everything that has happened the last 20 months or so. The Blue Devils led the entire way before finishing up with an easy 118-84 win over the Wildcats, easily the largest margin of victory by either side in the series with Duke slight underdogs at top sportsbooks. That November 6, 2018 contest was the first college game for Zion Williamson, who finished with 28 points.

Can Duke Frosh Banchero Live Up to the Hype?

Whether or not Krzyzewski’s final campaign will have a fairytale ending remains to be seen, but it’s got to be better than last season. The Blue Devils missed the NCAA Tournament for just the fourth time under Coach K, three of those coming in his first three seasons and not including 2020 when March Madness was canceled for everyone.

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski will call it quits after this season. Will this be his “Last Dance”? Lance King/Getty Images/AFP

Duke lost its top three scorers from last season, but returns a talented trio with experience in forward Wendell Moore Jr., center Mark Williams and guard Jeremy Roach. That threesome combined for better than 25 points per game and 11+ rebounds, and give Krzyzewski experience down low in Williams and at point with Roach.

Just how much of a fairytale script will be written depends a lot on incoming freshman Paolo Banchero. Touted by many as the top Class of 2021 recruit, Banchero is one of three 5-star recruits Krzyzewski landed along with guard Trevor Keels and forward AJ Griffin. The Blue Devils also added frontcourt transfers Bates Jones from Davidson and Theo John from Marquette.

UK Scores Haul of Talent Through Transfer Portal

As bad as Duke had it a season ago, Kentucky was even worse. The Wildcats not only missed March Madness, they never reached the 10-win mark while falling on the wrong side of the college basketball scores in 16 of 25 matchups.

The good news is though Kentucky lost a lot of scoring, the Wildcats do return leading scorer Davion Mintz (11.5 ppg) in the backcourt and leading rebounder Keion Brooks Jr. (10.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg) for the frontcourt. The bad news for both of those players is their minutes might be reduced after Calipari managed to land a huge influx of talent through the transfer portal, most notably guards Savhir Wheeler (Georgia), CJ Fredrick (Iowa) and Kellan Grady (Davidson).

Kentucky actually had some issues with perimeter defense in their recent exhibition game against Miles College, and trying to get his new transfers and freshmen into a groove defensively is going to be a big job for Calipari and his staff. I’ll ride with the Banchero hype wagon and Coach K’s final season opener for my NCAA basketball pick.

NCAAB Pick: Duke -1.5 (-104) at FanDuel