CHICAGO - On Tuesday night at the United Center, the traveling Izzone shouted "freshmen, freshmen" from the rafters.
It was meant as a taunt toward Kentucky. It came across as more of a plea.
Those kiddos are as good as advertised, huh?
Kansas head coach Bill Self feels they are. Per ESPN's Andy Katz, he said, "I think this is going to be an unbelievable year in college basketball. There are more hyped players, an unbelievable freshmen class and there appears to be the potential to have more great teams than what we've had in the past.''
The Michigan State Spartans may have looked like the most complete team at the Champions Classic, and they'll be a worthy No. 1, but we'll be talking about the night the world was introduced to Julius Randle, Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins for years to come.
Randle started the night confused and frustrated by Michigan State's defense, then he turned downright beastly on his way to 27 points and 13 rebounds in a 78-74 loss.
Parker's shot-making had the draftniks second-guessing labeling Wiggins as the next "chosen one" for a half, and then Self unleashed Wiggins in the post and he helped finish off the Blue Devils, 94-83.
Did these games help decide which freshman is the best? Not really. But we did get a better idea of who these guys are and what their teams can become.
What We Learned and What to Expect
Randle is clearly the go-to guy for the 'Cats, and any concern that he can't put up All-American numbers with so much talent on one team should be put to rest.
If anything, the 'Cats couldn't get Randle the ball enough down the stretch. He's simply unguardable one-on-one, and the Spartans with Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson are about as well-equipped as any team in the country at trying to match up with Randle.
The Spartans did, however, show off a few effective strategies of getting the 'Cats out of kilter. When they crowded Randle, he turned the ball over eight times. He's so determined to get to the basket sometimes that he thinks he can simply power through help. In those situations, he needs to give up the ball.
But Kentucky's problems, on this night, had more to do with guard play and getting into its offense. That should come with time.
What is obvious is that Randle can carry this team for long stretches, and he nearly knocked off one of the best teams in the country when James Young was the only other Kentucky star who went home feeling good about his performance.
Parker is just about as unguardable, and Mike Krzyzewski does a masterful job of moving him around. If there's a trap that Parker could fall into, it's proving that he can hit just about any shot on the floor. As ESPN's Michael Wilbon wrote, "There's nothing Parker doesn't do really, really well."
The only time Kansas had any kind of success against him was when Perry Ellis stayed sound defensively and made Parker take a guarded shot. He'll hit his share, but he had a few attempts down the stretch that he would have been better off turning down.
Pinning that loss on a Duke offense that shot 51.7 percent and had only 10 turnovers seems a bit preposterous. The Blue Devils' issues are on the defensive end and figuring out how to guard in the post, where Ellis and Wiggins took advantage.
Oh yeah, we almost forgot about that Wiggins guy, didn't we?
Foul trouble kept him out of the limelight for a half, but he delivered by scoring 16 of his 22 points in the second half.
I wrote on Monday about how the transition to the college game is an easier one for Parker than Wiggins. I still believe that, and we saw some of that Tuesday night, but what we also saw is that when Wiggins is motivated, he has another gear.
He found it down the stretch when Self smartly moved him to the blocks and put the other four Jayhawks on the perimeter, trying to force-feed Wiggins.
Wiggins, like Parker, takes some more difficult shots than he should at times, but when he's getting in the paint, he sure is special. If Wiggins keeps that up, he will be just fine.
Bravo to all three coaches for putting their stars in spots where they could be great. It's only November, and they're already dominating on a huge stage.
On this night, Wiggins had more help than the other two. And in the long run, the best supporting cast will matter the most come March.
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