A matchup between No. 9 Duke and No. 10 Kentucky is large in any circumstance.
And on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden in New York, the proceedings will be magnified.
For all of the talent on the court, the attention-getter will be Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who is starting his final season before retirement. Krzyzewski insists he doesn’t want the next five or six months to be all about him.
“I’m going after it the way I’ve gone after it every year,” said Krzyzewski, who is the NCAA’s all-time wins leader at 1,170.
Yet this could be the last time a Krzyzewski-coach team goes against Kentucky. It’s a non-conference rivalry deep in tradition.
It’s also Duke’s only scheduled game at Madison Square Garden. The Blue Devils also have a deep history in the famed arena, where Krzyzewski claimed his 1,000th career coaching victory.
Krzyzewski, who’s in his 42nd season at Duke and 47th overall as a head coach, said it has been an unusual preseason given that most of the recruiting has been handled by associate head coach Jon Scheyer, who will become the Blue Devils’ head coach next spring.
“This is the most I’ve spent with a team (in) a long time, probably in the past decade or last 12 years, with the one-and-dones,” Krzyzewski said. “When you’re with a veteran team, I can (work) with them for a long time. We had three juniors come back. Not being on the road recruiting, recruiting being done on campus, has benefited me immensely.”
The oddity is that both Duke and Kentucky are seeking bounce-back seasons.
Neither program participated in the NCAA Tournament last season. Following two victories in the ACC Tournament, Duke’s season ended after a member of the roster tested positive for COVID-19, leaving the Blue Devils with a 13-11 record.
Kentucky had a 9-16 record. A pair of three-game winning streaks in SEC play were the highlights in an otherwise forgettable season.
“We got to figure it out,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “I’ll be honest, I have not zeroed in on (a lineup), but I told them after (a recent exhibition) game, ‘If you can play interior defense, you’re going to play for us. So you want to play? Play interior defense.'”
As is par for both programs, the Wildcats and Blue Devils will rely on newcomers.
Guard Kellan Grady, a transfer from Davidson, is likely to be in Kentucky’s starting lineup. Freshman TyTy Washington Jr. also is tabbed for the starting five.
“I enjoy playing fast-paced basketball; that’s part of the reason I came here because I know (Coach Calipari),” Kentucky freshman forward Daimion Collins said. “He’ll play fast pace. I know that the people we have around here can play fast, too, and I like that.”
Calipari said he’ll want to see pressure defense pay off.
“I like that we can press with our guards like they can pick up and play,” he said.
Duke is bound to counter with an emphasis on backcourt production.
“I think that one of the strengths of our team is in the group that starts, we really have four ball-handlers, including Paolo (Banchero), so that’s why we advance the ball fast,” Krzyzewski said.
Banchero is among the top-ranked freshmen in the country. Others are eager to make impacts as well.
“Emotions won’t come until I really get there,” Duke freshman guard Trevor Keels said. “It’s going to be exciting. A packed Madison Square Garden – not a lot of people can say they’ve played at Madison Square Garden in front of all those people.”
Kentucky’s following seven games will be at home. Duke will follow its opener with five straight home games.
–Field Level Media