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Early numbers favor Duke over Kentucky

Keldon Johnson (Vicky Graff Photo)

By RICHARD CHEEKS, Contributing Writer

Duke and Kentucky will start their respective 2018-19 basketball seasons in Indianapolis Tuesday night facing each other in a rare marquee matchup on the opening day of a new season. Leading into this collision, each coach has taken his team on the road in August for team building, bonding, and to get a jumpstart for the upcoming season.

In addition, each team has matriculated through October with a pair of exhibition games on their respective hoe courts. Each team has passed these early pre-season tests without a loss

Without delving into the details, Kentucky played its August games at a higher level of proficiency than Duke. However, Duke was more proficient in their two exhibition games than the Cats.

Trying to read the tea leaves produced by those August and October games is perilous, but nevertheless, they do provide some basis for comparison, albeit a slim one. Duke’s five games were played at an average pace of 80.5 possessions per game with an average score of 104-61. Kentucky’s six games were played at an average pace of 76.3 possessions per game with an average score of 91.5-63.8. This yields raw offensive efficiencies of 1.199 ppp for Kentucky and 1.299 ppp for Duke. The raw defensive efficiencies are 0.836 ppp and 0.738 ppp for Kentucky and Duke respectively. The Raw Net Efficiencies are 0.362 ppp and 0.561 ppp, respectively.

Assuming the strength of opponents are about equal for Kentucky’s six and Duke’s five opponents, these pre-season results indicate a Duke advantage of about 15 points. However, Kentucky’s array of opponents in the Bahamas is arguably stronger than Duke’s array of Canadian opponents, which should narrow this raw difference but there is no way to quantify either team’s strength of schedule for the preseason opponents. A what if analysis would be whether the average UK pre-season opponent would beat the average Duke preseason opponent by 15 points in a series of games?

Pomeroy’s preseason ratings have Duke #2 and Kentucky #7 with Duke a 1 point favorite in Tuesday’s season opener. The ANE preseason comparison has Duke a 3 point favorite for the game on Tuesday night.

However, as everyone appreciates, the projections for games this early in a season are closer to mere speculation than even an uneducated guess. As the early season games develop over the next 2 to 3 weeks, the 2018-19 Cats’ statistical profile will emerge.

See how other UK fans handicap this game at 247Sports, The Cats Pause message board at:

You can participate in the score prediction contest at 247Sports at the following link:


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  1. This seems to be good analysis and hard to disagree with. It is ok for us to go in as underdog. I just hate the thought of having to look at Coach K again. The only other person I put it same category is having to look at Gran. They both look like weasels.

  2. I haven’t seen Duke, but I must say
    I’m not all that impressed with Kentucky so far.

    1. Yes. We probably should not expect much. Maybe I should go ahead & cancel my room reservation in Minneapolis.

  3. No matter the outcome, I don’t think anything would surprise me. I can see a close game either way, and I can see a blowout either way. You just don’t know when both teams are so young and there are so many new players to mesh together.
    I believe this game will come down to two points of emphasis: Defense and guard play.
    Not going to be upset either way with the outcome because it is way too early to have expectations.

    1. The expectation is always the same??

  4. Go Cats, beat Tennessee!!

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