NCAA Champions Classic Returns
Since 2011, the annual college basketball event showcases four of the best college basketball programs in the country in a back to back doubleheader. The schools participating in the classic are Michigan State, Duke, Kentucky & Kansas. 3 of the 4 schools advanced to last year’s Final Four with Duke winning the championship. The event is the high point of ESPN’s College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon which features 24 straight hours of coverage to mark the beginning of the college basketball season. The first installment was held at Madison Square Garden, then the venue changes from year to year. Other venues that have hosted include the Georgia Dome in 2012, United Center in 2013 and the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis last year. This year the United Center will be hosting again on Tuesday, November 17. No. 4 ranked Duke will face off against the top seeded Kentucky followed by No. 10 ranked Kansas takes on Michigan State who are ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press top 25 poll. In the event’s 4 year history, Duke has the best record at 3-1, Michigan State & Kentucky are tied at 2-2 while Kansas has only won 1 of their 4 matchups.
The University of Kentucky is notorious for producing “one-and-done’s”. The term used for players who attend college for the NBA’s minimum one year requirement, then choose to leave school & opt in for the NBA draft. Three of the six players from last year’s Wildcats who declared for the draft were freshman, with Karl-Anthony Towns being the No. 1 pick overall. This year’s team is depleted after so many players left to play in the NBA. Last year, coach John Calipari had 2 full lines of five guys who could easily take down any other school in the country. They went 18-0 in their conference & 38-1 overall but I don’t expect to see them repeat those numbers this season. Sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis & senior small forward Alex Poythress look to keep the ‘Cat’s on top of the ranks this year.
Duke University is one of the most hated schools in the nation, but it’s not because they play dirty or have a bad attitude, it’s because of how good they are. They have won the NCAA championship 5 times including last year, have been runner up in the tournament 6 times, made it to the Final Four 16 times & appeared in the Elite Eight 20 times. They’re also coached by Mike Krzyzewski, better known as “Coach K”, who has won more college basketball games than any other coach in the history of the sport. Freshman Brandon Ingram is one of this year’s top recruits in his class & last year’s breakout star Grayson Allen are looking to spark the team to win their 2nd championship in as many years.
The University of Kansas has been a force in the college basketball world since I can remember. The Jayhawks rank 2nd on the all time wins list with 2,153. In 2008, they won their 3rd NCAA championship when they erased a 9 point deficit in the last 2 minutes of the game to send it into overtime where they defeated the Memphis Tigers in one of the most exciting championship games of all time. Last year, they exited the NCAA tournament in the 3rd round when they were beaten by Wichita State. The Jayhawks have 4 starters including senior power forward Perry Ellis returning to go along with 11 letter winners from last year’s team. Coach Bill Self is poised to make another run at the title again this year. They will meet the Spartans of Michigan State in game 2 of the Champions Classic.
Michigan State is the final team that participates in the annual Champions Classic. Coach Tom Izzo has led the team since 1995 & has an impressive record of 466-184 with the Spartans. Izzo coached the team to the school’s 2nd championship in 2000 where they beat the Florida Gators. They usually fly under most people’s radar because they play in the Big 10 Conference which is known as a weaker conference compared to others in the country. The Spartans were a disappointing 7 seed in last year’s NCAA tournament but made it to the Final Four for their 8th time where they lost to Duke, who ended up winning the title. MSU lost 2 key players from last year, but aren’t rattled since they have 6 players returning from last year including Denzel Valentine, one of the most versatile all-around players in his senior class.
Tickets to the Champions Classic on November 17 are available for purchase here