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Kentucky shows something important on big stage: It's still Kentucky

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Kentucky beats Duke in early season showdown (0:56)

The No. 2 Wildcats have four players score in double digits in a 74-63 win over the No. 5 Blue Devils. (0:56)

CHICAGO -- They laughed, because a giggle qualifies as an appropriate, unprompted response to a display of dominance. Jamal Murray, who scored 16 points in No. 2 Kentucky's lopsided 74-63 win over No. 5 Duke in the Champions Classic at Chicago's United Center on Tuesday, looked at teammate Tyler Ulis (18 points, six assists, two steals and zero turnovers), adjacent to him on the postgame podium, and smiled.

That smirk accompanied an announcement to the college basketball universe that John Calipari might have built another Wildcats juggernaut that's equipped for another Final Four run following last year's 38-1 campaign.

"We build chemistry and play off each other," Murray said. "We just kind of take turns a little bit between us."

Both chuckled before Ulis added, "When he's feeling it, he lets me know and I give him the ball."

The production of Murray, Ulis and Isaiah Briscoe (46 points combined), Marcus Lee's aggression on both ends (10 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks) and defensive pressure that turned NBA prospects Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram into a 3-for-17 mess all factored in to an impressive performance and a strong case that Kentucky is the best team in America.

Right now.

In the first week of the season, we don't know much. Much of the analyses and critiques -- the praise, too -- registers as premature or imprudent.

Call a team "great" and the social media trolls will attack, unless you're referencing their team. Ask a coach if his squad should panic after an unexpected loss and he'll tell you that it's a long, long season. Ask a coach if his team should celebrate after a big win and he'll unveil a list of concerns.

Those around college basketball preach patience because teams and players often unravel and rebuild in a perpetual process that reveals reality and truth at a gradual pace.

So perhaps Kentucky's shutdown of Duke, the defending national champ, should not shift Wednesday morning's conversation toward ideas we'll eventually regret or lead to assumptions about Houston. It's too early for that.

Unless it's not.

Because it's Kentucky. And at Kentucky, coach John Calipari has led four of his last five squads to the Final Four. And they've all thrived on the same qualitative elements: elite talent, cohesion, length and depth inside, gutsy ball handlers and strict defense.

In a matchup against Duke, a team that lost a trio of freshmen who led the program to a national championship but added the No. 1 incoming class according to Recruiting Nation, Ulis and Murray penned a love song to a Wooden Award voting committee that will narrow its list of contenders in the coming months. Australian Isaac Humphries, a 7-foot bouncer for a club called The Paint, blocked two shots and ended all talk of Kentucky's frontcourt lacking the depth necessary to win a national title. And as a unit, the Wildcats held Duke to a 40 percent clip and 16 turnovers.

It was a shorty-won't-you-come-my-way ballad for contrarians and haters who search for Kentucky's pitfalls and problems because they've grown tired of its pre-eminence. But only the oblivious would miss the obvious.

"Kentucky's a really good team and very well-coached," Mike Krzyzewski said after Tuesday's loss. "You can't win games unless you respond to that."

It's not clear if the Wildcats will approach last season's heights.

But they possess the tenets any program would desire in pursuit of success in the final chapter of the season.

It's just one game. And yes, it's just the third game of the 2015-16 season.

But after three games, they're the best defensive team in the country, per KenPom's measurements. They're clearly deeper than their starting five.

We only needed three games to see that Murray is one of America's best players. We only needed three games to see that Skal Labissiere and Lee anchor one of its best frontcourts. Ulis holds a slot as one of its most proficient point guards.

"There aren't many guys out there like [Ulis] and Murray's a man," Krzyzewski said. "I thought they were stronger than we were."

Calipari reboots better than any team in America. He competes with 18- and 19-year-olds who only last for a year. And a few months after the NBA draft, he adds new players and constructs another young crew that seems capable of greatness.

Duke did the same. But Duke's freshmen ran from the spotlight on Tuesday. Kentucky's freshmen played like they were born for it.

So replay the same storylines. The same lofty projections. The same what-ifs.

The same doubts. The same questions. And the same potential ending.

Even though it's early.

"If we really bounce and play off one another, we're going to be really good," Calipari said. "If we don't, we're going to be an average team."