Three-Point Play: Basketball season opens with a bang
ELITE 14: Eric Bossi's takeaways from Denton
The college basketball season kicks off in earnest Tuesday as 20 of the preseason top 25 hit the floor for season-openers. However, most attention is going to be focused on Indianapolis and the Champions Classic featuring Kansas taking on Michigan State before Duke and Kentucky end the evening. Here's what to watch for, potential recruiting repercussions and an idea for the future of the event.
1. TALKING JAYHAWKS AND SPARTANS
In the evening’s opening act, preseason No. 1 Kansas tangles with No. 10 Michigan State for the eighth time since Bill Self took over at Kansas. So far, Tom Izzo’s Spartans own a 4-3 advantage over the Jayhawks and they’ve won both times the programs have faced off in the Champions Classic.
A few things stand out to me in this one. First of all, both teams are relatively experienced and second they are each looking to find out who their go-to guy will be. At Kansas, power forward Dedric Lawson is expected to be that guy and the Memphis transfer is eager to get on the floor after sitting out last season. Will it be Nick Ward, Cassius Winston or Josh Langford who steps up for Michigan State? Having three experienced players like that is certainly a luxury.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the Spartans give Kansas an awful lot of trouble. While talented, Kansas doesn’t have near as much experience playing together and they’ll be relying on a freshman (five-star Devon Dotson) and a transfer (Charlie Moore from Cal) to handle the pressure against a savvy and established veteran like Winston. Another Kansas freshman, Quentin Grimes, enters the game with the most NBA buzz and I’m particularly interested to see Michigan State’s Aaron Henry. The 6-foot-6 wing wasn’t the highest-ranked player in their freshman class, but there’s been a strong buzz.
2. TALKING BLUE DEVILS AND WILDCATS
No. 4 Duke and No. 2 Kentucky is one of those games that has the potential to break the Internet. The game features the two best recruiting head coaches in the game in John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewksi and a slew of players that both fanbases are incredibly familiar with as the teams have fought each other over many of them. Add in some general hatred from non-Duke and Kentucky fans and everybody is salivating.
It’s not often that Kentucky is the more experienced team but the Wildcats will be and they’ll also have an advantage on the interior with sophomore P.J. Washington and Stanford transfer Reid Travis. But, they will have questions at the point guard slot where freshmen Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley along with sophomore Quade Green will be a bit of a three-headed monster.
At Duke, it’s all about the three electric freshman wing talents they have in 2018’s No.1 (R.J. Barrett), No. 3 (Cameron Reddish) and No. 5 (Zion Williamson) players. Can those guys cause enough mismatches and scoring to offset their unproven post scoring?
This game figures to be a track meet, it figures to feature lots of highlights and I can’t wait to read all of the trash talk going on. Ultimately, I see the game coming down to which team’s point guard (or guards) establishes the most control over tempo and spreading the ball around to teammates.
3. RECRUITING IMPACT AND AN IDEA FOR THE FUTURE
Look, I don’t feel like any recruit is going to make a decision based solely on what they see Tuesday night. But considering how many remaining elite talents each of these programs is still alive for and competing with each other for, there’s no way it can’t have at least some impact. These kids have been listening to pitches about each team’s needs, how they could play right away and why the others are loaded.
Look at the five-stars still being targeted by programs hitting the floor. There’s No. 1 overall Vernon Carey (Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State), James Wiseman (Kansas and Kentucky), Isaiah Stewart (Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State), Matthew Hurt (Duke, Kansas and Kentucky), Trayce Jackson-Davis (Michigan State) and Keion Brooks (Kentucky and Michigan State). To think that the evening might not have some level of impact on the thinking of those players and more is foolish.
Finally, I wouldn’t change anything about the Champions Classic. Actually, I lied, because there is one big change I would love to see considered moving forward. I think it’s hard to tout an event as the Champions Classic when neither North Carolina or Villanova is involved. Since 2005, North Carolina and Nova have won more national titles (5) than Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State combined (4).
I would still leave the event at four teams each year and would simply put the teams on a rotating basis so that they each play two out of every three years. As much attention and publicity as this event has generated, adding the Tar Heels and Wildcats would only increase interest and earning power.