What many people consider to be the official sign college basketball has arrived will take place tonight in the Champions Classic. This exciting event features four of the most historically successful college basketball programs facing off to ring in a new college basketball season.
Tonight’s match-ups will feature Kentucky taking on Michigan State at 7:00 ET and Duke facing off with Kansas at 9:30 PM ET. The games are played at a neutral site every year so there is no home-court advantage. We’ll preview these games and get into a pick for each one as well.
Michigan State comes into this game fresh off a one-point loss to Gonzaga. The Spartans played the Bulldogs extremely tough and it could be argued if the game wasn’t played outside the Spartans could have come away with the victory. The Spartans certainly have the most experienced roster out of all four teams playing and they proved against Gonzaga they can play physically and know how to control the tempo.
AJ Hoggard and Tyson Walker lead an experienced backcourt and after two games Hoggard is leading the team in scoring and assists. I’m expecting to see better shooting out of Joey Hauser as well as I think you can blame the poor shooting numbers on playing outside.
Big man Mady Sissoko made his importance known against Gonzaga making All-American Drew Timme work for everything he got offensively. If Oscar Tshiebwe is able to play tonight for Kentucky that will be an intriguing match-up to watch.
The Kentucky big man might be available in a limited capacity for tonight’s game if he has a good practice beforehand according to John Calipari. Even if he can’t go it’s expected both Damion Collins and Sahvir Wheeler will be able to play tonight after missing the first two games of the season.
Despite playing two inferior opponents the Wildcats' shooting has been off to a hot start behind veteran CJ Frederick. Freshman guard Cason Wallace has also been scoring at a high level to open the season so we’ll see if Michigan State’s veteran guards can slow him down tonight.
The Spartans are currently +6.5 point underdogs and who I’ll be taking for my first play of the night. There is no denying the immense talent this #4 ranked Kentucky team possesses but I think the veteran experience of the Spartans can keep them in this game.
Michigan State can bother teams physically and it will be the first time these highly regarded Kentucky freshmen face high-level defense in their college careers. Even if Tshiebwe can play he won’t be on the floor for his usual minutes so he won’t be able to affect the game as much as he was able to when healthy last season.
As long as the Spartans shooting numbers increase which, I think they will it should be a close game. Kentucky certainly does possess the talent advantage but I think it's too early in the season for them to be clicking at such a high level they can easily pull away. I like Michigan State to keep it close with another ranked team.
The second game of this double-header is the much anticipated ranked match-up between seventh-ranked Duke and sixth-ranked Kansas. Both teams feature their usual exciting freshman to complement talented veteran players so it will be interesting to see which freshman step up in their first true highly televised match-up.
Duke will be without star freshman Dariq Whitehead tonight, however, in the first two games of the season freshman Kyle Fillipowski, Derek Lively, and Mark Mitchell have dominated the lesser competition the Blue Devils have played against. Duke’s primary returner is Jeremy Roach who will most likely be the primary ballhandler tonight. Look for Illinois transfer Jacob Grandison to contribute from three-point land tonight as well.
Kansas returns starters Jalen Wilson and Dajuan Harris Jr. from last year's national championship team so the Jayhawks also have a nice balance of experience on their roster. Freshman Gradey Dick looks to be one of the most talented freshmen in the country and one of the best shooters in all of college basketball so the match-up between him and Duke’s freshman is very exciting for college basketball fans.
Texas Tech transfer Kevin McCullar Jr. adds another element to this strong offense along with his veteran experience. The big match-up to look out for tonight will be between Kanas freshman Ernest Udeh Jr. and Kyle Fillipowski as the two young guys will be battling to give their team an advantage on the glass.
This is certainly one of the harder games to pick as it’s hard to predict how freshmen will handle this stage this early in the season. The spread for this game has moved a lot and opened with Kansas being favored but now the Jayhawks can be found as +1.5 point underdogs. Kansas is who I’ll be rolling with for my second play of the night.
I like the Jayhawks' experienced returners a bit more than Duke’s so if it takes some time for the freshman to settle in I think Kansas has the advantage when it comes to scoring early in the game. Jalen Wilson has been playing at an incredibly high level to start the year so I think he has the ability to control the game and score whenever his team needs him to.
I’m expecting a very close game and it’s hard to know what to expect from these Duke freshmen but I trust head coach Bill Self’s experience in games like this. Despite being on the bench as an assistant for a while now this will be head coach Jon Scheyer’s first big game so I’ll be sticking with the Jayhawks.
Michigan State (+6.5)