Experience beats youth in Duke-UK
by Nicole Auerbach, USA TODAY Sports
ATLANTA — Kentucky coach John Calipari has been saying the same thing for months: This year’s Kentucky team is not the same as last year’s.
Yet some college basketball fans wanted to pretend. They thought because Calipari brought in another top recruiting class, a return trip to the national championship game was all but assured.
As the third-ranked Wildcats learned in their 75-68 loss to No. 9 Duke on Tuesday night in the Champions Classic at the Georgia Dome, they shouldn’t book flights back here for the Final Four anytime soon.
That’s not to say Kentucky can’t make it, but rather that the Wildcats will need a lot of work — and some luck — to do it. It’s only November, but it’s safe to say this Kentucky team is not the same as last year’s and the ‘Cats won’t have a cakewalk through this season.
On Tuesday, there were certainly flashes of high-level talent, particularly in the play of Alex Poythress, scored 20 points and had a few monster dunks.
But Nerlens Noel is not national player of the year Anthony Davis, though he has a unique feature that Kentucky fans adore — his high-top fade with UK shaved into the back of his head, as beloved as Davis’ unibrow. And there’s still no veteran presence on this team, like it had last year with senior Darius Miller and experienced sophomores Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones.
Kentucky is also missing a true point guard, as North Carolina State transfer Ryan Harrow missed Tuesday night’s game due to an illness. Archie Goodwin filled in at the point and likely learned a great deal, but he couldn’t quite take over late in the game like Michigan State’s point guard Keith Appling did in the first half of Tuesday’s doubleheader.
There’s plenty of time for Kentucky to grow. Calipari will try to get these players to play unselfishly and improve defensively, like he always does. But it’s likely time to stop comparing them to last year’s team, just like Calipari suggested all summer.
Tuesday’s game was a slugfest, as the two teams combined for XX fouls. Not everyone was … [For more on Experience beats youth as Duke downs Kentucky, click here.]