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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Sunday / January 20.
  • Duke’s ‘Big Three’ humble Kentucky at Champions Classic; Are the Blue Devils the new No. 1?

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    INDIANAPOLIS — Duke’s Big Three humbled Kentucky in the showcase game of the Champions Classic, raising the question: Should the Blue Devils be the new No. 1 team in the nation?

    Maybe not right now, but Duke will likely get some votes in the Associated Press poll on Monday after their Big Three of R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish combined for 83 points as the No. 4 Blue Devils destroyed No. 2 Kentucky, 118-84, in impressive fashion Tuesday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Kentucky fans began streaming to the exits midway through the second half.

    By contrast, Kentucky’s five freshmen — Keldon Johnson, Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, E.J. Montgomery and Tyler Herro — combined for 53 points.

    “We weren’t surprised at how much we were winning because we come to work every day so we weren’t surprised,” Barrett said.

    Barrett (33 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds), Williamson (28 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists) and Reddish (22 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds) were ranked the top three prospects in the Class of 2018 by, and no program — not even John Calipari’s one-and-done factory at Kentucky — had ever landed the top three prospects in a single class.

    Duke has beaten out Kentucky for the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation the last three years.

    And this freshmen class handed Calipari the worst loss of his Kentucky career, surpassing a 30-point beatdown by Tennessee in 2013, according to ESPN.

    “They were just better than us,” Calipari said. “I told them, ‘I got out-coached, you got out-played. We’ll watch the tape and we’ll move on.'”

    “We played great. we played great,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I’m really proud of my guys. You start four freshman, no matter how talented they are you don’t know what they’re going to do in this environment. They were magnificent tonight

    He added: “I shouldn’t say I’m surprised at how well they played, but to play this well on this stage against Kentucky was a little bit surprising.”

    Earlier No. 1 Kansas had to fend off No. 10 Michigan State, 92-87, in the highest-scoring game in Champions Classic history. That might open the door for Duke to secure some No. 1 votes.

    The 6-foot-7 Barrett improved to 2-0 against Calipari after he beat a Calipari-led USA team in the World Cup semifinals in 2017 en route to Canada’s first gold medal at that level.

    The projected No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Barrett didn’t disappoint the 70-plus NBA personnel in the building, showing a tremendous motor, his ability to score in transition and also shoot from the perimeter. He is looking to become the third No. 1 pick from Canada in recent years, following Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins.

    The 6-7 Williamson, whom Coach K has called “graceful” despite his 285 pounds, flashed guard-like handling skills and mixed in a nice touch from the perimeter with several thunderous dunks.

    Duke’s Big Three outscored Kentucky 45-42 in the first half as Duke raced out to a 59-42 lead. The trio, who had been knocked for their outside shooting,  combined to go 5-for-10 from deep in the first 20 minutes.

    Barrett, Williamson and Reddish shot 7-of-16 from three for the game, while Kentucky as a team shot 4-of-17.

    Duke improved to 8-6 against Kentucky in neutral-site games, but Kentucky leads the overall series 12-10.

    Williamson, a YouTube and Internet sensation because of his dunking abilities, notched his first official college dunk at the 11:35 mark of the first half, giving Duke a 29-10 lead

    Williamson also flashed his defensive abilities, stuffing Nick Richards near the basket during the second half in a play that led to a Barrett and-one on the other end.


    Photo: Bleacher Report

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.