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Getting to know: Duke basketball

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Duke guard Tre Jones (3) and guard Jordan Goldwire (14) react following a play against Fort Valley State during the first half of an NCAA exhibition college basketball game in Durham, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Duke guard Tre Jones (3) and guard Jordan Goldwire (14) react following a play against Fort Valley State during the first half of an NCAA exhibition college basketball game in Durham, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) by Associated Press

There isn’t a better way to begin a season.

In this year’s Champions Classic, all of the top-four teams in the country will take center stage to officially get the 2019-20 season underway. This is the first time in the nine-year history of the event that the four squads have ranked in the top-four preseason spots.

No. 3 Kansas and No. 4 Duke will be first up, squaring off at 6 p.m. Tuesday night. No. 1 Michigan State and No. 2 Kentucky will follow in a marquee doubleheader at Madison Square Garden.

The Jayhawks have won each of their last three Champions Classic contests. Last year, Kansas defeated Michigan State by a 92-87 margin. In 2017, KU earned a 65-61 win over Kentucky in Chicago. Kansas also recorded a 77-75 victory over Duke in New York City in 2016, which ended on a game-winning shot by Frank Mason.

Duke leads the all-time series with a 7-5 edge, but Kansas has won four of the last five meetings. The most recent battle was an 85-81 overtime KU win in the 2018 Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament that propelled KU to its 15th Final Four.

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BREAKING DOWN DUKE

TOP PLAYER

No. 3 — G Tre Jones | 6-3, 185, so.

Duke guard Tre Jones (3) dribbles against Fort Valley State during the second half of an NCAA exhibition college basketball game in Durham, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Duke guard Tre Jones (3) dribbles against Fort Valley State during the second half of an NCAA exhibition college basketball game in Durham, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) by Associated Press

Sophomore point guard Tre Jones is back after setting Duke’s overall single-season record for assist-to-turnover ratio (3.62), which is a mark that led the ACC and was third nationally.

Jones figures to be one of the few familiar faces from last year’s team that fell in the Elite Eight. Jones is a preseason first-team All-ACC selection and was named to the preseason watch list for the Cousy Award.

As a freshman, Jones averaged 9.3 points, 5.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game last year. He was also brilliant on defense from the point guard position. It will certainly be an interesting battle between Jones and Kansas sophomore point guard Devon Dotson in the season opener.

SUPPORTING CAST

No. 1 — C Vernon Carey Jr. | 6-10, 270, fr.

Duke center Vernon Carey Jr. (1) drives to the basket during the second half of an NCAA exhibition college against Fort Valley State in Durham, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Duke center Vernon Carey Jr. (1) drives to the basket during the second half of an NCAA exhibition college against Fort Valley State in Durham, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) by Associated Press

While the battle at point guard will be thrilling, the battle at the center position could be entertaining as well.

Vernon Carey Jr., who is a freshman, was the No. 5 overall player in the ESPN 100 and ranked No. 3 at center. He averaged 21.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game in his senior year at NSU University School on his way to becoming a McDonald’s All-American.

Carey was named to the watch list for the 2020 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, which is presented to the best center in college basketball.

No. 21 — F Matthew Hurt | 6-9, 214, fr.

Duke's Matthew Hurt (21) jumps for a layup during an NCAA college basketball game against Northwest Missouri State in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

Duke's Matthew Hurt (21) jumps for a layup during an NCAA college basketball game against Northwest Missouri State in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown) by Associated Press

Matthew Hurt could ultimately decide the outcome in this much-anticipated Champions Classic contest.

KU head coach Bill Self admitted concerns about defending a stretch forward with his two-big lineup following the exhibition opener. Hurt, who was named to the watch list for 2020 Julius Erving Award, could take advantage of that.

Hurt paced the Blue Devils in two exhibition wins, averaging a team-best 18.0 points with seven boards, two assists and three steals. Hurt, a five-star recruit ranked No. 10 overall in the ESPN 100, chose Duke over North Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas.

No. 2 — G Cassius Stanley | 6-6, 193, fr.

Duke's Cassius Stanley holds the ball during an NCAA college basketball game against Northwest Missouri State in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

Duke's Cassius Stanley holds the ball during an NCAA college basketball game against Northwest Missouri State in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown) by Associated Press

Cassius Stanley is another freshman set to make his collegiate debut against Kansas.

Although Duke’s starting lineup is still up in the air, Stanley should have an impact in the season opener. Stanley was a four-star recruit and ranked No. 29 overall in the ESPN 100. Stanley is the second Duke player in three seasons from Sierra Canyon High, joining 2018 consensus first-team All-American and ACC Player of the Year Marvin Bagley III.

Stanley chose Duke over Kansas, Oregon and UCLA. Stanley started in the exhibition finale, and was 8-of-10 from the field in the win over Fort Valley State for 16 points, five rebounds and three assists in 17 minutes.

MEET THE COACH

Mike Krzyzewski owns a 1,132-344 (.767) record as a head coach, including a 1,059-285 (.788) mark at Duke. Krzyzewski has won five NCAA titles, three Olympic gold medals and two FIBA World Cup/World Championship crowns for a total of 10 major championships.

VEGAS SAYS

Kansas opened as a 2.5-point underdog, which is the line I will use for the purpose of this blog. With it being the season opener, it is impossible to have an accurate read on either team. KenPom projects Duke to win by a 78-74 margin, but I’m siding with the points and KU’s experience in this one.

Prediction: Kansas 76, Duke 72

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