College basketball picks – How will Duke, Kentucky build on wins?

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Duke and Kentucky made resounding opening statements in the Champions Classic on Tuesday night, and figure to have things slightly easier as they retake the floor on Friday. ESPN.com’s college basketball experts make their predictions for those games, and also expound on the surprises of tip-off week in college basketball

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All four Champions Classic participants will be back in action this weekend. Give us one thing you learned on Tuesday about Duke, Kansas, Kentucky or Michigan State that you didn’t know heading into the opener.

Myron Medcalf, senior college basketball writer: I learned that Duke might lack the consistent offensive production we’ve come to expect with Mike Krzyzewski’s teams in the one-and-done era. While I think their defensive prowess will carry them into ACC contention, I’m not convinced they’ll possess the offensive burst for a deep run in March. It’s far too early to know for sure, but I’d be concerned about the scoring capabilities of any team that forces 28 turnovers and wins a two-point game.

Duke made just 37.5 percent of its shots inside the arc against Kansas. The Blue Devils played great defense, which should be the strength of this year’s squad, especially on the perimeter with Tre Jones. But the offense must grow in the coming weeks and months to enter January as a threat in the ACC.

Jeff Borzello, college basketball insider: The team I’ve changed my opinion the most on is Kansas. I thought the Jayhawks were the No. 2 team in the country and a legitimate national title contender; now, I think they’re a long way from that. I do think a return from injury for Iowa transfer Isaiah Moss will provide a major boost, but the Jayhawks will still struggle with ball-handling and shot-creation in the half-court. Devon Dotson is essentially the only consistent ball-handler on the roster, and he turned it over six times against Duke. Some of that obviously had to do with the Blue Devils’ defense, but it’s certainly concern moving forward.

The other thing with Kansas is the propensity for Self to play with two bigs together, which on Tuesday was Udoka Azubuike and David McCormack. For a team that doesn’t have a ton of guys who can create their own shots, shrinking the defense and crowding the floor doesn’t help.

John Gasaway, college basketball writer: One thing I learned about Kentucky was that Tyrese Maxey is not only a blue-chip prospect, he’s also utterly fearless. Playing against the (then) No. 1 team in the country in Madison Square Garden, the freshman looked for all the world like he’d been doing this for years and having fun in the process.

There will of course be ups and downs for Maxey this season after that outstanding debut, and we’ll have to see if he can distribute the ball as well as he can drive it and shoot it. Still, knowing that John Calipari has a freshman in the backcourt with this much potential does make me feel better about rather recklessly picking Kentucky, before the Champions Classic, to win the national title in 2020.



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