State Farm Champions Classic Preview
Every season, one of the best nights of regular season college basketball is brought to fans as early as November. Four of college basketball’s elite will square off at the United Center in Chicago. Kentucky, Duke, Michigan State, and Kansas will be playing in what has seemed to be a preview of the Final Four. These schools have a combined 18 national championships and have made appearances in seven of the past eight Final Fours. With hall of fame coaches on the sideline and the mass amount of potential first round talent on the hardwood, the State Farms Champions Classic is a must watch.
Duke vs. Kentucky – 7:30 p.m. Tipoff
The hatred between these programs since Christian Laettner’s infamous shot is well known. Kentucky faithful are still distressed about coach Rick Pitino’s decision to not guard Grant Hill on the inbound pass, but that was 23 years ago and there is a different coach leading the Big Blue Nation: John Calipari. Calipari’s No. 2 Wildcats will go up against Coach K’s No. 5 Blue Devils.
Not many familiar faces from last year will be seen on the court with a combined 11 players leaving to put their name in the NBA draft. But, both teams are composed of numerous McDonald’s All-Americans, which should lead to a fast-pace offensive show in the House That Jordan Built.
Duke will be led by national championship standout Grayson Allen, who currently leads the team with 27 points per game. Allen is the star of an impressive backcourt composed of sharpshooters Matt Jones, Luke Kennard, and five-star recruit Derryck Thornton. The player with the highest NBA potential, 6-foot-9 Brandon Ingram, will be a mismatch against Kentucky’s forwards.
Tyler Ulis, Isaiah Briscoe and Jamal Murray, a trio of guards, will lead the Wildcats. They have been prone to turn the ball over with a combined 18 turnovers through the first two games. Where Kentucky holds an advantage over the Blue Devils is down low with potential No. 1 pick Skal Labissiere. Labissiere had 26 points on an efficient 10-12 from the field last game against NJIT.
With the amount of offensive talent on the floor, points should come in bunches. Matt Jones is shooting a ridiculous 60 percent from three, and Grayson Allen has looked like college basketball’s new star. The trio of guards for Kentucky will continue to make young mistakes leading to vital turnovers. Kentucky will struggle to find an answer for Brandon Ingram as Coach K bests Coach Cal in their second meeting in the Champions Classic.
Prediction: Duke 83, Kentucky 78
Michigan State vs. Kansas – 10:00 p.m. Tipoff
Tom Izzo seems to do more with less every year and his seven Final Four appearances speak for themselves. Bill Self seems to win the Big 12 every year; but that is because Kansas has won 11 consecutive Big 12 conference championships. These two potential Hall of Fame coaches will battle in what will be the second game of the State Farm Champions Classic.
The lone meeting in the Champions Classic between these two schools resulted in a Michigan State 67-64 victory.
With the graduation of Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine, a member of last year’s Final Four team will lead the Spartans. The leading scorer for Izzo’s squad is senior forward Matt Costello with 15 points per game. Costello and heralded freshman big man Deyonta Davis gives the Spartans a valuable low-post duo.
The Jayhawks offense put up 109 points in their only outing of the season. Key contributors were Frank Mason, Wayne Selden Jr. and Perry Ellis. Bill Self’s team did not lack offensive firepower, even without his five-star forward Cheick Diallo, who has yet to be ruled eligible.
Denzel Valentine has shown his emergence to come up clutch in important games. The absence of Cheick Diallo will have an impact on the defensive end, where Perry Ellis is a liability. Tom Izzo’s wizardry continues as his No. 13 Spartans take down the No. 4 Jayhawks.
Prediction: Michigan State 71, Kansas 64
Dave Correll is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.