The 2018-19 college basketball season gets off to a roaring start Tuesday night when blueblood titans Kentucky and Duke face off in Indianapolis in the main event of the Champions Classic.
"Maybe because of where they've placed it, this has become a humongous event," Kentucky coach John Calipari said Sunday. "I don't know if any of us coaches are looking at this shaking our heads like, 'Why are we doing this to ourselves this early?'"
No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 4 Duke is the second game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. No. 1 Kansas meets No. 10 Michigan State in the opener.
Calipari says all the teams win regardless of the outcome.
"Unbelievable talent. Unbelievable team," Calipari said of Duke. "So if you win it's huge. It'll give you a cushion as you go forward. If you lose, you just put it in the rearview mirror, learn from it and go on to the next game.
"You play bad and win or you play well and lose, this is learning," Calipari said. "You really get a chance to say, 'OK, what are our strengths? What are some weaknesses? Is there anything glaring that we're going to have to address?' And I'll tell you, it's not bad that you address it right away."
The game will be a showcase for the best and brightest of college basketball. Twelve of the participants are alumni of the McDonald's All-American game, seven from Kentucky.
It is also a proving ground for the nation's best freshmen. Duke had the No. 1 recruiting class last season, including No. 1 RJ Barrett, No. 2 Cam Reddish, No. 5 Zion Williamson, No. 15 Tre Jones and No. 33 Joey Baker.
"This will be one where you'll find out, 'Can you guard people on the bounce?' Because that's what they'll do," Calipari said. "They've probably got three or four guys that catch it and they're driving it."
The most unlikely weapon in that regard is Williamson, a 6-foot-7, 285-pound monster who can dunk the basketball after lifting off the foul line.
"When Zion was little - and it's hard to believe he was ever little - he was a point guard," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. "He understands the game and he's got a good handle. Putting the ball in his hands is a smart thing to do."
Williamson's size also plays into what could be one of Duke's all-time best defensive teams.
"We've had some really good teams, but it's as athletic as '92, '01," Krzyzewski said. "They are wide and athletic and they're playing hard.
"When you do that the court shrinks," the coach said. "With their arms out and moving, you've got a chance to be good. Especially with the ball pressure Tre puts on. He makes that ball-handler attack him instead of running an offense. That sounds simple, but it's hard to do. But we have the capability of doing that. Then we have a chance to be a very good defensive team."
Kentucky had the No. 2 class with No. 9 EJ Montgomery, No. 12 Ashton Hagans, No. 13 Keldon Johnson, No. 22 Immanuel Quickley and No. 37 Tyler Herro. But the Wildcats also return sophomores PJ Washington, Nick Richards and Quade Green and added grad transfer Reid Travis, a two-time All-Pac 12 performer at Stanford.
"I don't want to make this bigger than it is for those guys or for me. I don't want to coach that way early. But I'll say that and will probably get more excited than I should," Calipari admitted. "But you don't do your best, whether you're coaching or you're playing, if you get too much going. You've got to be excited about the game and ready to go and have great energy, yet calm in the inside in what you're doing."