The Champions Classic is going to start the 2013-14 college men's basketball season off with a bang on Tuesday night.
The tourney will have four of the top five teams in the AP Top 25 gathering in Chicago. No. 2 Michigan State will challenge No. 1 Kentucky first, followed by No. 5 Kansas against No. 4 Duke.
With those four heavyweight facing their first real tests of the season, fans should have a better idea of what to expect from each over the remainder of the campaign.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski is an ardent supporter of the event and is glad it was recently extended through 2016, telling Gary Parrish of CBS Sports:
The Champions Classic has turned out to be an amazing idea. The quality of basketball with four outstanding programs under one roof in early November is a great way to kick off the college basketball season.
Let’s check out when and where to watch this exciting event, followed by a closer look at the matchups and a prediction on the outcome of each.
When: Tuesday, Nov. 12
Where: United Center, Chicago
Live Stream: WatchESPN
No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 1 Kentucky (7:30 p.m. ET)
This epic clash between the top two teams in the country will be one that both casual fans and hardcore college hoops junkies alike will not want to miss.
The Spartans look like they are warmed up and ready to dethrone the Wildcats after Tom Izzo’s squad destroyed McNeese State last Friday night, 98-56.
On top of scoring a ton of points, Michigan State grabbed 66 rebounds and dished out 32 assists.
The defense was also stout, holding the Cowboys to 27.4 percent shooting from the field.
Gary Harris continued his emergence as a legit superstar. The Spartans sophomore guard scored 20 points, grabbed 10 boards and dropped six dimes in just 27 minutes of play.
He’ll have his hands full on Tuesday night, as Kentucky will pose a much bigger threat on both ends of the floor. The top-ranked Wildcats are also coming off a lopsided win against an inferior opponent, obliterating UNC-Asheville on Friday, 89-57.
Freshman phenom Julius Randle lived up to his hype, as the forward chipped in 23 points and 15 boards in 26 minutes. Head coach John Calipari clearly knows how to get the most from his first-year stars, and it will be no different this season.
Kentucky is loaded with young talent outside of Randle. The Harrison twins—Aaron and Andrew—play well at the guard spots, James Young makes things happen from the wing, and Willie Cauley-Stein—the lone starter from last year’s mediocre squad—provides a massive, athletic interior presence.
It should be a great contest between two teams that have the talent, coaching and desire to be national champions at the end of this campaign.
Don’t be surprised if these two powerhouses meet again at the conclusion of March Madness.
Prediction: Kentucky 88, Michigan State 85
No. 5 Kansas vs. No. 4 Duke (9:30 p.m. ET)
The two programs participating in the second game of the Champions Classic may not be ranked as highly as either the Spartans or Wildcats, but should have no issues in providing just as much entertainment and excitement.
Duke is looking to remain undefeated in the event, having vanquished Michigan State in 2011 and Kentucky last season. The Blue Devils have traditionally fared well against teams in the top five, as they are 23-12 all-time in those matchups under Coach K.
This is a new-look Duke team from last year’s Elite Eight squad, as the focal point is now superstar swingman Jabari Parker. The freshman came out firing in the opener against Davidson, finishing with 22 points, six boards, two assists and a block in an 111-77 victory.
Forward Rodney Hood added 22 points while Quinn Cook helped out with 21 points from the backcourt.
The Blue Devils shot well from deep, connecting on 13-of-21 three-point attempts in their debut. Perimeter shooting was a mild concern for Duke going into the season, but its first game quickly alleviated any doubts that the Blue Devils can bomb away.
Don’t expect Duke to shoot 70 percent from the field again, especially not against the defense of Kansas. The Jayhawks are much quicker, possess more length and will provide much more resistance than Davidson did in its blowout loss.
Swingman Andrew Wiggins—widely projected to be the top pick in the upcoming NBA draft—shined in his debut, leading a balanced Kansas offensive attack with 16 points in a 80-63 win over Louisiana-Monroe.
Perry Ellis was the only other starter to reach double digits, although head coach Bill Self wasn’t afraid to go to his reserves, who rewarded him with 33 points.
The Jayhawks' depth will be important against Duke in order to give Kansas' starters some much-needed rest without losing too much ground. Expect a knockdown, drag-out battle between these two perennial powerhouses that could easily go either way.
Prediction: Duke 87, Kansas 85
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