An early season marquee matchup is on tap in Atlanta, as the third-ranked Kentucky Wildcats take on the ninth-ranked Duke Blue Devils as part of the Champions Classic.
The defending national champs had their hands full in their season-opener against Maryland, holding off Maryland late to earn a hard-fought 72-69 victory. The game marked the collegiate debut of the nation's top recruit, Nerlens Noel, although the youngster was overshadowed by sophomore Kyle Wiltjer. John Calipari is known for getting the most out of his young rosters and is expected to do it once again in 2012-13.
Mike Krzyzewski is the all-time winningest coach in the Division I level and added his 928th victory with Duke's 74-55 blasting of Georgia State in the season-opener in Durham last Friday.
These two historic programs haven't met since the 2001-02 season. Kentucky owns an 11-8 series advantage, but Duke has closed the gap win wins in six of the last seven meetings. Five of the matchups have occurred in the NCAA Tournament.
Noel's first game in a Kentucky uniform was rather forgettable, as he finished the game with just four points on 2-of-6 shooting. The youngster did lead the team with nine rebounds, though. Wiltjer picked up the slack with 19 points, thanks in large part to four three-pointers. Archie Goodwin knocked down 9- of-11 from the charity stripe to add 16 points to the cause, while Jarrod Polson came off the bench to tally a career-high 10 points in a career-high 22 minutes of work. Kentucky won the game, despite getting outrebounded by the Terrapins, 54-38. Calipari lost all five starters from a year ago, four of which were selected in the first-round of the NBA Draft, including the top two picks, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. In fact, the Wildcats are the only team from a major conference to not return a single player with at least one start.
Duke can relate to Kentucky's plight, as the Blue Devils also came into the season with some notable losses, as Miles Plumlee and Austin Rivers moved on to the NBA, while Andre Dawkins has taken a leave of absence. In the season- opening win over Georgia State, the Blue Devils showed they will be able to assuage the losses, as the team shot a sterling .511 from the floor, including an impressive 11-of-24 from behind the arc. Mason Plumlee dominated in the low post, recording a double-double with team-highs of 19 points and 14 rebounds. Veteran guards Seth Curry and Tyler Thornton provided plenty of balance with 15 and 13 points, respectively. The pair combined for six three-pointers. Despite losing the battle on the boards (33-31), Duke held Georgia State to a mere .373 shooting effort and forced 16 turnovers.