Kentucky and Duke are going to be fun to watch next year, there is no doubt about that. Duke bolsters one of the best recruiting classes in the history of college basketball. Coach K managed to grab the top 3 players in the class of 2018, RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson, and Cam Reddish, along with Tre Jones who is the 17th best player in the class. They are loaded with talent, but they will be heavily reliant on freshman to carry the load. The good news for Duke fans is that the last championship they won, in 2015, they were lead by four Freshman.
Kentucky, as usual, has a strong recruiting class as well. Coach Cal signed four players in the top 25; Keldon Johnson, EJ Montgomery, Ashton Hagans, and Immanuel Quickley. Big Blue Nation will also have PJ Washington, Quade Green, and Nick Richards returning from last season. The Wildcats also landed arguably the best graduate transfer available this summer in Reid Travis from Stanford. Travis averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds last season on his way to his second consecutive first team all Pac 12 season in a row. He will add depth and experience to this team that can push them over the edge to be title favorites.
Both teams are extremely talented, but what will set Kentucky apart is its depth.
Duke will need to figure out who is running the show. Tre Jones is a very talented point guard, but he will have to step up and really turn into a floor general in order to run this talented team. There starting lineup will be talented, but they have three players who pretty much play the same position. Zion is technically a power forward, but he is only 6’6, although his freakish athleticism makes up for his height. Barrett and Reddish are both 6’7 and play the 3, so one of them will have to play shooting guard. After these four guys, the team drops off talent wise. Marques Bolden is an average center, but he hasn’t got the type of quality minutes to prove his worth. Javin DeLaurier, Alex O’Connell, and Jordan Goldwire will be able to contribute as well, but the depth of this team does not compare to Kentucky.
I don’t know if Cal has decided who he will start this year, but having options is never a bad problem. He has already said he wants this team to be balanced, and that he expects more than five guys to average double digits. At guard, they have Sophomore Quade Green, and Freshman Immanuel Quickley, Ashton Hagans, and Tyler Herro. Green was solid last season, but lottery pick Shai Gilgeous-Alexander took over the point as the year went on. Quickley should bring solid shooting as well as an ability to finish around the rim. Herro will be one of the teams best shooters, but he may not get as much playing time as he originally thought. The most interesting guard they have in my opinion is Ashton Hagans. Hagans recently reclassified from 2019 to 2018 and he will bring athleticism, good handles, and a vocal presence to this team. I could see Hagans being the next great Kentucky point guard, showing flashes of John Wall at times.
On the wing, Kentucky will have PJ Washington, who is coming off a season where he averaged 10 and 5. A solid season for him given that he was the 3rd or 4th option most of the time. Freshman Keldon Johnson out of Oak Hill may just be the most talented player on this squad, and he will be fun to watch. A smooth scorer who can do it all, he reminds me of Jayson Tatum the way he shoots and works his way through the lane. Herro will probably end up playing on the wing as well due to his shooting ability.
Down low, Kentucky will be solid as well. Nick Richards 6’11 Sophomore will be in contention for the starting center job, he had a decent season last year and showed some flashes of being a solid big. EJ Montgomery looks like he is going to be a monster next year. The 6’10 Freshman is long and athletic, and he can step out and shoot the three as well, I can see him starting down low for the Wildcats. I would guess that Cal will start Reid Travis at power forward given his experience and polished offensive game. Travis needs to improve on defense if he wants to go to the league, but he is a great rebounder and scorer and he’ll add experience and leadership to this team.
I like Kentucky’s chances next year, but that being said it is college basketball. Come March no one knows what is going to happen. Both Duke and Kentucky will be fun to watch, but the reason I think Kentucky will be cutting down the nets is their depth and coaching. I think Coach Cal will be able to lead this team to a championship, and the amount of talent he has to work with I have no doubt there will plenty of draft picks come from this team come the 2019 NBA Draft.
Mark your calendars for November 6th, Kentucky plays Duke in the State Farm Champions Classic. That should be fun.