The Champions Classic: A Preview

Champions Classic
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The college basketball season is right around the corner. Luckily for viewers, the season tips off with The Champions Classic on Tuesday, November 5th. For those that are unaware, the one-day tournament consists of two games played between the Duke Blue Devils, Kansas Jayhawks, Kentucky Wildcats, and Michigan State Spartans. The matchups are rotated every year, and this year is set up to be a massive year as the participants are the top four teams in the nation.

Game 1: Duke Blue Devils vs. Kansas Jayhawks

Summary

The Blue Devils are fielding an entirely new team from last year and must replace three top ten picks. They come into this game after dominating Kentucky last year in a blowout. The expectations for Duke are high, like always, but Blue Devils fans will be intrigued to see what this team can pull off. They will be lead by Tre Jones and a slew of freshmen. It seems Duke must rely on Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt to score and use their aggressive guards to help the defense. 

Kansas returns almost everyone but Quentin Grimes and finally has a healthy Udoka Azubuike. The duo of Devon Dotson and Azubuike is enough to make the Jayhawks a favorite in this battle. Last year, Kansas had no depth in the frontcourt, but this year is the polar opposite. They finally have an eligible Silvio De Sousa, David McCormack, and Mitch Lightfoot to use up some bench minutes. Kansas adds a solid wing in Jalen Wilson and some other freshmen that may see a handful of minutes. Possibly the most important addition is Isaiah Moss, a transfer from Iowa. He brings a much-needed shooting stroke to a team that could not make jump shots last year. 

What to Look for

Foul trouble is going to play a significant role in this game. Both teams want to play from inside out. The team that can get the opposing bigs in foul trouble first will have a very good chance to win the game. 

The power forward position will play an important part. Duke will most likely play Matthew Hurt, a big-time scorer with a ton of length. Kansas will most likely use a combination of Ochai Agbaji, Marcus Garrett, and Jalen Wilson. If Kansas can control Matthew Hurt, Duke will have a much harder time scoring. 

The other important aspect of this game is the jump shooting. Both teams were terrible shooters last year and will need to improve this year to cut down the nets. If one team gets hot from behind the arc, the game could be over quick.

Key Matchup

The most intriguing matchup in this game is undoubtedly Vernon Carey and Udoka Azubuike. Azubuike is a load down low, and if Carey gets in foul trouble, early Duke may be in trouble. The same thing can be said on the other end of the court. 

The other big-time matchup is Tre Jones and Devon Dotson. These are two of the best guards in the nation and cause fits for other teams. Whoever wins these matchups has a very good chance to win the game.

Prediction

Kansas 84, Duke 77. Kansas has too much experience for the Blue Devils. Duke looked timid in their first exhibition game, which will probably carry over under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.

Game 2: Michigan State Spartans vs. Kentucky Wildcats

Summary

Michigan State and Kentucky enter this game as the number one and two teams in the nation, respectively. Michigan State returns National Player of the Year candidate Cassius Winston and most of their Final Four team from last year, minus Nick Ward and Matt McQuaid

The Spartans also added Joey Hauser from Marquette and Rocket Watts, a very talented freshman guard from Detroit. Hauser’s waiver request for immediate eligibility was denied but is being appealed. Michigan State was hopeful to have Joshua Langford back and fully healthy after dealing with a foot injury last year, but the injury has returned, and he will miss more time. 

Kentucky has another top recruiting class and a team full of freshmen, surprise surprise. They also have the benefit of returning Ashton Hagans, EJ Montgomery, and Immanuel Quickley, all of which have a chance to be fantastic, especially Montgomery. The Wildcats bring in Tyrese Maxey, an electric player that will certainly have his handprints all over every game. They also add a graduate transfer in Nate Sestina from Bucknell that has a well rounded offensive game. As always, it will be all about growth for Kentucky and Coach Calipari.

What to Look for

Michigan State needs to establish a knock-down shooter outside of Cassius Winston. Kyle Ahrens is a good shooter but will need to be more consistent. For the high pick and roll game to work, the floor needs to be spaced with a shooter. Look for who steps up in this game as the shooter. 

The Spartans also lack some depth in the frontcourt for the first time in a long time. If Hauser has his request denied, they are ultra-thin. Xavier Tillman will need to be smart and keep himself in the game. Some young, inexperienced bigs may have to play major minutes.

For Kentucky, the most interesting thing to look for is who takes the next step. Hagans and Montgomery had their moments last year, but one of them needs to become the guy. Look for EJ Montgomery to follow the same trajectory as PJ Washington and have a dominant year. He has a great all-around game and a quick twitch that makes him hard to guard. 

The Wildcats will also use their freshmen a lot. Maxey will be outstanding, as noted. The questions will be regarding who else steps up. Keion Brooks will probably be that guy. He is an attacking wing with a physical frame. As long as he does not rely on his jumper, he will be a problem.

Key Matchup

College basketball is all about guards. This game has two of the best in the nation, much like the first game. Ashton Hagans was able to dominate Coby White last year. He will need to do the same to Cassius Winston, who rarely turns the ball over for Kentucky to have a chance. The winner of this point guard battle will lead their team to victory.

Prediction

Michigan State 81, Kentucky 75.  Cassius Winston is just too good. Typically, Calipari’s teams start slow and improve as the year goes on. Michigan State sneaks this one out. 

College Basketball Has Arrived

There is no better way to open the college basketball season than the Champions Classic. The top four teams in the nation on the biggest stage in the basketball world, the mecca. Enjoy all 80 minutes of basketball action and celebrate the fact that basketball is back. If you are a fan of either team, relax. It is a long season, and there will be improvements made. Enjoy! 

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