What Did We Learn About Each Team Playing in the Champions Classic?

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystNovember 6, 2019

Duke's Cassius Stanley
Duke's Cassius StanleyElsa/Getty Images

After all of the hype surrounding an event featuring the top four teams in college basketball's preseason Associated Press poll, the Champions Classic ended up being Slop City.

Kansas committed a billion turnovers. Duke shot 36 percent from the field and 61 percent from the free-throw line. Kentucky and Michigan State shot a combined 11-of-44 from behind the new three-point arc. And none of the national championship favorites managed to crack even 70 points.

In other words, we expect all four of these teams to gradually start looking a lot better than they did in their season debuts.

But what can we take away from Duke's 68-66 win over Kansas and Kentucky's 69-62 victory over No. 1 Michigan State?

Each team showed something promising, as well as a cause for concern that we weren't expecting to see.

Promising Duke Development: Cassius Stanley is a star

NCAA March Madness @marchmadness

Here. Comes. Duke. 👀 @cassius_stanley brings the Blue Devils some momentum! 💪 https://t.co/g1hHIBsW9V

While Duke doesn't have its typical supply of surefire lottery picks, it does boast a nice stockpile of potential first-round talent. As noted in our preview of this event, the Blue Devils entered the season with four players projected to be taken in the second half of the first round: Matthew Hurt (No. 16), Wendell Moore Jr. (No. 17), Tre Jones (No. 23) and Vernon Carey Jr. (No. 29).

On Tuesday, a different Dukie looked like he might be the biggest star of the bunch.

Freshman guard Cassius Stanley got out to a rough start, finishing the first half with four turnovers and only two points. But he took over the game midway through the second half, throwing down back-to-back thunderous fast-break dunks and canning a corner three shortly thereafter.

During that spurt, he scored eight consecutive points for Duke. He would later convert on the and-1 layup that put Duke ahead for good.

In a game defined by ugly shots and uglier turnovers, Stanley made all four of his second-half field-goal attempts without a turnover.


Concerning Duke Development: Trouble on the glass

Matthew Hurt
Matthew HurtAdam Hunger/Associated Press

Rebound margin is a predominantly meaningless statistic, especially when you force 28 turnovers and are therefore ending possessions without the possibility of a defensive rebound. Nevertheless, it bears mentioning that Duke was minus-10 on the glass with a starting power forward (Hurt) who finished with only two boards.

Sophomore guard Tre Jones averaged 4.4 rebounds per 40 minutes last season. The only worse Blue Devil in that category was fellow guard Jordan Goldwire (3.6), who received a surprising start against Kansas. If Goldwire continues to log significant minutes and Hurt continues getting destroyed on the glass by his counterpart (David McCormack had 13 rebounds to Hurt's two), this issue will plague Duke all year long.

Javin DeLaurier can be Duke's Amile Jefferson/Lance Thomas/David McClure type of power forward who doesn't do much shooting and is mainly out there for rebounding, defense and leadership, but he needs to get his fouls under control. It has been an issue throughout his career, and that continued Tuesday night with four whistles in 14 minutes.

When DeLaurier is on the court, it means either Hurt or Carey is on the bench, which is quite the sacrifice on offense for a team lacking in three-point-shooting guards.

Duke won't always be facing teams with multiple NBA-caliber frontcourt players, but Hurt needs to start crashing the glass. Otherwise, head coach Mike Krzyzewski will need to get creative to hide that problem.


Promising Kansas Development: Udoka Azubuike made free throws

Udoka Azubuike
Udoka AzubuikeAJ Mast/Associated Press

"Hack-a-Doke" has been a highly effective strategy for slowing down the KU giant who has made roughly 75 percent of his career field-goal attempts, but that may no longer be the case.

Azubuike entered this season as a career 39.4 percent free-throw shooter, and up until Tuesday night, he was getting worse, not better. In his last 18 games, he shot 29.8 percent and did not have a single game in which he shot better than 50 percent from the charity stripe. 

So while it might not seem like much to the untrained eye, his making 2-of-3 freebies against Duke was a huge deal. It was just the third time in Azubuike's career that he attempted multiple free throws and made at least 58 percent of them.

If that continues and he shoots even 60 percent from the charity stripe this year, what is his weakness?

It could be similar to Mason Plumlee's final season with Duke, when after three years of shooting 50.5 percent from the line and being almost unplayable late in close games because of it, he shot 68 percent as a senior and became an unstoppable force of nature.

Now, Kansas just needs to figure out how to deal with the double-teams on Azubuike. He was saddled with foul trouble for much of the night, but there's no excuse for this guy playing 30 minutes and only accounting for four field-goal attempts and three free-throw attempts. He should be getting a touch on every half-court possession.


Concerning Kansas Development: Where was Jalen Wilson?

Jeff Goodman @GoodmanHoops

Kinda surprised we haven’t seen more of Jalen Wilson at the 4 tonight for Kansas.

The 28 turnovers were alarming. No question about that. But this team struggled with turnovers last season and was facing a Duke team that should have one of the best defenses in the nation. Throw in the Madison Square Garden and first-game-of-the-season factors and we aren't that concerned with what should be an outlier performance.

But Kansas playing its top recruit for only two minutes was a surprising turn of events.

Wilson committed a foul, committed a turnover and jacked up an ill-advised three in transition in the span of about 65 seconds, so it's possible head coach Bill Self just decided in that moment that the freshman wasn't ready to play a significant role in this game. Plus, McCormack (six points, 13 rebounds) played well, and Duke's offense couldn't seem to figure out how to exploit Kansas' two-bigs lineup.

Still, the Jayhawks are going to need much more from Wilson moving forward, if only because the wing-forward can help space out the offense. One of the big reasons they committed so many turnovers is because Duke barely even needed to respect the perimeter shot when McCormack, Azubuike and Marcus Garrett were on the court together, which was most of the night. Passing lanes were nonexistent, and the big men were double-teamed just about any time they touched the ball.

Wilson could have been a difference-maker in that regard, but he instead spent the final 29 minutes on the bench. Self has been notorious for putting guys in his doghouse over the years, and we'll have to keep a close eye on Kansas' next game (vs. UNC-Greensboro on Friday) to see if Wilson is already there. If he isn't playing now, it isn't going to get any better once Iowa transfer Isaiah Moss (hamstring) is available.


Promising Kentucky Development: Tyrese Maxey is the truth

ESPN @espn

TYRESE MAXEY. CLUTCH 💰 https://t.co/IAmhmTOB2A

Most of us thought Maxey would be Kentucky's leading scorer by the end of the season, but no one was expecting the freshman to come off the bench and drop 26 points on the preseason favorite to win the national championship.

Similar to Cassius Stanley in the first game of the night, it took a little while for Maxey to start cooking. Midway through the first half, his only contribution to the box score was a turnover. But once he started shooting, he didn't stop.

Maxey scored 26 of Kentucky's final 53 points. No other Wildcats accounted for more than seven points during that time. And Maxey naturally delivered the dagger, casually draining a three-pointer from Trae Young range to give Kentucky a five-point lead with one minute remaining.

Let's just say it was hard to not be reminded of Malik Monk's 23-point performance against Michigan State in the 2016 Champions Classic. A star was born on this night in New York City, and he already has more than enough swagger for the role.


Concerning Kentucky Development: Still no go-to big man

Nate Sestina
Nate SestinaElsa/Getty Images

You never want to read the words "by committee" in reference your favorite sports team. Usually, it's a bullpen by committee in baseball or a running back by committee in football, but it seems like Kentucky is taking a frontcourt by committee approach to this season.

Last year's prized big-man recruit EJ Montgomery finished with just six points and two rebounds. 5-star junior Nick Richards wasn't any better, fouling out with five points and four rebounds. Bucknell transfer Nate Sestina led the way with seven points and six rebounds in 31 minutes of work, which isn't saying much.

That's a combined total of 18 points and 12 rebounds from the frontcourt, which usually isn't going to cut it. Three guys doing the work that an Anthony Davis or a Julius Randle could often do by himself is troubling, regardless of whether it came against the No. 1 team in the nation.


Promising Michigan State Development: Marcus Bingham Jr. made some deuces

Marcus Bingham Jr.
Marcus Bingham Jr.Adam Hunger/Associated Press

Bingham was Michigan State's highest-rated recruit last season, but he logged only 83 minutes and barely saw the floor against any opponent worth a darn.

Why, you ask? Because the 6'11" forward shot 28.6 percent from the field and missed all seven of his two-point attempts. He looked the part of a guy who could be a huge asset for rebounds and blocks, posting per-40-minute numbers of 12.5 and 4.8, respectively, in his limited action. He just wasn't playable yet.

That evidently changed this summer, though, as Bingham played 17 minutes against Kentucky, making three of his five two-point attempts and finishing with a respectable seven points and six rebounds (with no fouls) off the bench.

Each of his three made buckets was a dunk, which is always a nice way to improve your shooting percentage. If he keeps that up and continues to showcase a viable perimeter game, he could be the Big Ten's breakout player of the year. And if that happens, head coach Tom Izzo should be cutting down a championship net for the first time in two decades.


Concerning Michigan State Development: Rocket Watts held scoreless

Spartan Avenue @SpartanAvenueFS

Rocket Watts is having a "welcome to college basketball" game.

With Josh Langford out indefinitely, Michigan State desperately needs a new star to emerge in the backcourt to live up to the preseason hype. The natural assumption was that Rocket Wattsa top-40 overall combo guard, per 247Sports' composite rankingswould fill that role. And in due time, he might.

This was not his night, though.

Watts got the start alongside Cassius Winston, but he missed all four of his shots while committing three fouls and a pair of turnovers. He had an impressive assist to Winston right after the opening tip, but he completely vanished after that.

Senior Kyle Ahrens was also expected to pick up a sizable chunk of the slack from Langford's absence, but he wasn't much better. Ahrens made the three-pointer midway through the second half that somewhat jump-started a comeback, but that was his only bucket of the game.

The two guards combined to shoot 1-of-8 for three points with three assists and two rebounds in 42 minutes. Frankly, it's a miracle Michigan State even had a chance in this game with that joint effort, and the Spartans are going to be in a lot of trouble if Watts and Ahrens continue contributing next to nothing.


Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.


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