When Duke and Kentucky meet up in the coming season’s Championship Classic in Atlanta a lot will be made about the history and tradition of these two programs in what amounts to a meaningless friendly early season non-conference game.
Just don’t tell that to either fan base.
Lets set aside all the platitudes, neither of these programs’ are particular popular with the other, even if the public sentiment by players and coaches is otherwise. The bottom line is when these two teams get together it’s personal.
I personally have no real bone to pick with Kentucky or its fans but Kentucky and their fans sure do hate Duke; and well most Duke fans I know don’t care all that much for Kentucky. So, I expect a pretty nasty back and fourth between some fans when these two teams meet up.
Most of the hate from the Kentucky side comes from one moment in time, one shot, and perhaps one little love tap all provided by one man: Christian Laettner. I’m not entirely sure if the hatred dates back further than that but if it did, the Laettner stomp and subsequent shot has made Duke a cringe and curse inducing four letter word in the hearts of the Blue Grass state.
Even since then Kentucky has played and beaten Duke but still there appears to be no end in sight to the hatred that has been boiling over since 1992.
Most Duke fans seem to dislike Kentucky more because of the attitude of Kentucky fans, but the current Wildcat coach isn’t real popular either. Many, and not just in the Duke fan base don’t think John Calipari is on the up and up when it comes to playing by the rules.
We all know the stories about his time at UMass and then Memphis. At each stop Calipari left a wake of sanctions and scandal when he departed, but never once has he had any wrong doing pinned on him and many fans just don’t think it’s fair or right. Calipari’s penchant for attracting one and done recruiting classes over and over hasn’t endeared him to many in the college basketball world either.
All in all, neither program is popular with the other and I fully expect the claws and pitch forks to come out on both sides.
In the grand scheme of things winning this game isn’t really that important to either program. Kentucky is the reigning National Champion. And while their non conference schedule will feature really no one of consequence, they are certainly not going to need to beat Duke to make the NCAA Tournament. As for Duke, their non-conference schedule is a lot more daunting in possibility and actuality than Kentucky’s and a loss to the defending champs won’t kill their hopes either.
It will certainly be a big draw and you can’t ask for a more appealing game, especially early in the season. But this time next year, aside from previews for the Championship Classic, don’t expect many to remember who wins or loses unless they are fans of one of the two programs.
In the end this game is mostly a boon for early college basketball ratings when the focus is still on the college football and the NFL seasons. It will mean more to the fan bases, and win or loose I suspect both will go on disliking each other for the foreseeable future.