The college basketball season is near, and LWOS finishes its college basketball preview with its 2021-22 Champions Classic Preview. The Champions Classic features four of the best and most prestigious programs in all of college basketball. This year features Kansas vs Michigan State and Duke vs Kentucky. Both games have the potential to be can’t miss, but they’ll be can’t miss regardless. Nothing beats the excitement of the Champions Classic.
2021-22 Champions Classic Preview
#3 Kansas Jayhawks vs Michigan State Spartans – 7:00 P.M. EST
Tom Izzo vs Bill Self is a matchup that can’t be missed. The last time these two teams faced off in the Champions Classic, Kansas defeated MSU 92-87. This year Kansas has a fantastic combination of transfers and veterans while Michigan State seems to be in a transitional period. The talent is definitely there, but MSU has a way younger team. The spread is KU -4.5, which seems a little bit too low for Kansas. Self’s Jayhawks feature a starting lineup of Joseph Yesufu, Remy Martin, Christian Braun, Ochai Agbaji, and David McCormack. That’s a lineup that features two excellent transfers (Yesufu and Martin) and three proven scorers in Braun, Agbaji, and McCormack. In an exhibition game against Emporia, McCormack, Martin, and Agbaji combined for 48 of Kansas’ 86 points. If that trio gets going, it’ll be hard for Michigan State to stop.
Despite this seeming like an obvious Kansas win, Bill Self is not counting the Spartans out. “I don’t know much yet. Coach Roberts has the scout and he has a better look on them, but that will be our focus from this point forward.” Self said, “We’ll practice on Thursday and Friday, take Saturday off and then Monday and Tuesday will be all Michigan State. We need to work on us, but we also need to make sure we understand that they will be the best offensive rebounding team we may go against all year.” Self continued, “They go from defense-to offense probably as fast as anybody historically in the country, so we have to really do a good job in those two areas.” Kansas lacks size after Jalen Wilson’s DUI, which could be a problem for the Jayhawks.
Izzo’s starting five is transfer Tyson Walker, freshman Max Christie, and veterans Gabe Brown, Joey Hauser, and Marcus Bingham. It’s not an amazing lineup, but it could be a challenge for the Jayhawks. Brown and Hauser will have to step up offensively in order to be a major threat. Walker is unknown in P6 play, and Bingham hasn’t been given serious time to prove himself. Christie could be dangerous. He’s an excellent shooter, and it could be a situation similar to the 2018 Champions Classic where Quentin Grimes lit up the Spartans for six threes and 21 points. However, there are too many questions marks to say this team can beat Kansas. The spread is -4.5 for Kansas. I think they can definitely do better than that. Kansas will win by a considerable amount.
#10 Kentucky Wildcats vs #9 Duke Blue Devils – 9:30 EST
John Calipari vs Mike Krzyzewski. Two programs looking to redeem themselves after lackluster 2020-21 seasons. This matchup has added stakes as it is Coach K’s final season. Hopefully it isn’t a massacre like the last time these two teams faced off, which was a 118-84 romp at the hands of Duke. Coach K’s lineup consists of Paolo Banchero, Mark Williams, Wendell Moore, Jeremy Roach, and the fifth starter seems to be unknown. I predict it will either be Theo John, Trevor Keels, or Joey Baker. Banchero has scouts and analysts salivating at his talents, and Calipari could be getting flashbacks to Zion Williamson in 2019. The rest of Duke should be interesting to see. Do Moore and Roach take that extra step and elevate their game? Will Mark Williams be able to dominate down low as most expect?
I expect Keels to start as he seems to be ready to dominate on the court. However, he’s an unproven freshman, so no one knows how he will play. Despite these doubts, Duke is a one-point favorite, which is very interesting. When looking at Kentucky, this team has way more experience than the Blue Devils. It’s also a team with way more depth than Duke. Calipari’s starting five includes Sahvir Wheeler, Tyty Washington, Kellan Grady, Oscar Tshiebwe, and Keion Brooks. Tshiebwe vs Williams will be a can’t miss matchup as they’re both big bruisers in the paint. Wheeler and Washington should be difficult with their scoring, playmaking, and defense, meaning Roach and Moore will have a major challenge. Grady is a proven scorer and will also give the Blue Devils problems. Brooks also has major bounce, so he should be fun to watch.
However, will this team be able to contain Banchero. He’s a guard in a forward’s body, making him seem like Zion 2.0 for the Wildcats. Plus Kentucky struggled against Miles College. However, Miles caught fire from three, something Duke has never been good at doing. This game should be fun to watch for sure, and it’s a shame that it’s on very late for the East Coast. The game grows through more eyes being able to see the product, and having later games makes it difficult for kids to see these amazing players. Due to the depth and overall more talent, I will take Kentucky at +1. I think Washington breaks out and has a great performance, establishing himself as a household name.