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Why a College Hoops Game Will Be the Biggest NBA Event of the Year

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Why a College Hoops Game Will Be the Biggest NBA Event of the Year

There's only one game that's guaranteed to capture the attention and imagination of the entire basketball world in 2013-14. Only one is bound to pique the interest and draw the attention of fans, players, coaches, scouts and executives alike.

And it's not happening in the NBA, though it will be played on an NBA court—at the United Center in Chicago—and will feature no fewer than two teenagers with the talent to take over the Association over the next decade or so.

The teams? No. 4 Duke and No. 5 Kansas. The players? Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins.

You might've heard of them. Both are supremely gifted hybrid wing-forwards who've already drawn comparisons to perennial All-Stars. Both have been named the Gatorade National Player of the Year, Parker in 2012 and Wiggins in 2013.

Presumably, both will be on the court in the Windy City on Nov. 12, when the Blue Devils and Jayhawks face off in an early-season clash of NCAA tournament titans.

Interestingly enough, it was at the United Center where Parker and Wiggins last went toe-to-toe. The former racked up 10 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks for the victorious West, while the latter finished with 19 points, four rebounds and an assist for the East in the 2013 McDonald's All-American Game.

Both are already off to similarly scintillating starts for their respective collegiate squads.

Parker chipped in 22 points (on 8-of-10 from the field), six rebounds and two assists in just 23 minutes during Duke's 111-77 stomping of Davidson at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Meanwhile, Wiggins was busy stuffing the stat sheet with 16 points, three rebounds, two assists and three steals as Kansas ran past Louisiana-Monroe at Phog Allen Fieldhouse, 80-63.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Their first (and probably last) meeting as undergrads will be just the second collegiate outing for each of these All-American talents. It'll also be the one that forms the foundation of most of the opinions that'll matter in June.

Chances are, Parker and Wiggins will be tasked with guarding one another—for stretches, at least. And chances are, there will be scores of scouts and other front-office types in attendance to watch them go at it.

If the college basketball season plays out as many expect it to, Parker and Wiggins will finish their freshmen seasons as two of the top three prospects, along with Kentucky's Julius Randle, in the 2014 NBA draft.

Assuming, of course, that they skip school. Wiggins already seems to have his sights set on the pros, per ESPN.

As well he should. At 6'8", the kid known to many as the "Maple Jordan" (for his Canadian roots) comes equipped with a seven-foot wingspan, a 44-inch vertical and an uncanny ability to get off the floor multiple times in succession.

These physical factors—in addition to his skills as a passer, shooter and ball-handler—have led many talent evaluators to label Wiggins the best prospect to hit the circuit since LeBron James left high school in 2003.

Others have likened him to Tracy McGrady for his long, athletic build and penchant for scoring from the wing. Pro comparisons notwithstanding, many, including Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman, would agree that Wiggins is a lock to go No. 1 in next year's draft.

The opinion isn't exactly unanimous, though. Some, including ESPN's Jeff Goodman and Hampton Stevens of The Atlantic, have pointed to Wiggins' lackadaisical demeanor (particularly in practice) and poor interviewing skills for their skepticism over the Toronto native's primacy in his draft class.

Wiggins, though, will have every opportunity to debunk those notions and prove to the world that he's worth the hype when he takes the court against Parker's Blue Devils.

Of course, the same goes for Parker, at least as far as boosting his own draft status is concerned. The Chicago product isn't held in quite as high regard as an athlete as is Wiggins. To be fair, though, few basketball players of Wiggins' athletic prowess have ever walked the Earth.

And for what it's worth, Parker isn't too shabby a leaper himself.

Parker has drawn comparisons to bulkier, more skilled scorers like Carmelo Anthony and Bernard King. He's bigger and stronger than Wiggins and is widely considered to be a more polished prospect in terms of both his game and his demeanor. If Wiggins is No. 1 in his class, Parker is probably no worse than 1A, with Randle figuring in somewhere around there.

Still, you may be skeptical about the notion of a college basketball game in early November being the "Event of the Year" in the sport, and I wouldn't blame you. After all, this one game won't even come close to determining the next NCAA champion, much less the next owner of the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Heck, if Parker and Wiggins wind up on terrible NBA teams, as will likely be the case, they won't experience title contention for some time.

And if you abide by the data compiled by Devin at The Wages of Wins Journal, the odds of either one winning a championship at all are slim, if not surprisingly so.

Then again, if either of these guys "grows up" to be the sort of league-defining superstar on par with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, then there will be multiple titles decided by at least one player on the floor at the United Center on Tuesday.

If the results of this one game have any bearing on how the front offices of teams atop the 2014 draft make their selections on June 26, then the fortunes of multiple franchises for years to come could hang in the balance.

Which top prospect do you think will be the better pro?

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Can you say the same about a regular-season NBA game? A playoff game? A finals game, even?

Not likely. Only 18 of the previous 67 NBA championships—just under 27 percent—have been decided by a single game (i.e. a Game 7).

While supremely consequential to the league, Game 7's in the finals aren't always the most memorable. In all likelihood, someone who watched the 2013 finals between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs would sooner cite Game 6 (i.e. the Ray Allen shot) as the defining one of that series over a competitive but ultimately forgettable Game 7 win for the Heat.

And at most, a Game 7 affects the outcome of just one championship. The result may alter how one team or another approaches the subsequent offseason, depending on which squad lands on which side of the ledger, but exceedingly rare is the occasion that the course of the NBA is forever changed by one playoff game, regardless of the hype.

To be sure, the same could be said of a game featuring a pair of 18-year-olds in the limelight. It's possible that both Parker and Wiggins shine, or that both stink, or that one clearly outclasses the other.

But no matter the final outcome, the particulars of the game therein will be pored over ad nauseam by the NBA's movers and shakers. Teams may look to this one contest for cues as to how hard they should try to "tank," especially those—like the Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns—that have shown glimpses of middle-of-the-pack competitiveness in the early going.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Admittedly, an NCAA tournament game pitting Parker against Wiggins would outstrip the importance of this Duke-Kansas tilt by leaps and bounds. The United Center may be a big stage, but upping the ante with a collegiate championship at stake would give observers of all stripes a window into the true competitive nature of these two wunderkinds.

Barring that, don't expect any game in any league at any level between now and late June to take on the sort of singular importance that the next round of Parker vs. Wiggins will. These two may not be battling for the biggest prizes just yet, but in time they could be the ones most responsible for shaping the future of basketball itself.

And it all begins on Tuesday.

 

Which of these youngsters are you more excited to see? Let me know on Twitter!

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