Three-Point Play: Champions Classic
The college basketball season kicks off in a big way on Tuesday night with No. 1 Michigan State-No. 2 Kentucky and No. 3 Kansas-No. 4 Duke clashing at Madison Square Garden in the Champions Classic. In today’s Three-Point-Play, Eric Bossi discusses all things Champions Classic.
Starting Five: Top Juco players battle, big-time decisions on tap
1. WHO DO I WANT TO SEE?
The amount of talent that will hit the floor over the course of two games in New York City is going to be ridiculous. We’ll see high-profile freshmen make their debuts, we’ll see vets show why they are considered All-Americans, four Hall of Fame coaches and a little bit of everything in between. Myself, here’s a look at one player per team I’m looking most forward to watching.
Let’s start with the preseason No. 1 Spartans. Cassius Winston is their player of the year candidate but the Spartan I’m most interested to see is Malik Hall. The highly-touted freshman will be making his debut in a pressure packed game and I want to see how he reacts. I felt his ability to play inside and out was perfect for the college game and am looking forward to seeing how he looks.
For Kentucky, I’m excited to see the progression of sophomore Ashton Hagans. He got off to a slower than expected start as a freshman but I’m expecting a big leap forward from the Georgia native this year. He’s one of the best on-ball defenders in college and I’m looking forward to seeing how he handles Winston.
At Kansas, Ochai Agbaji made a huge early splash when his redshirt was removed midway through the 2018-19 season. He came back to Earth a little late in the season, but the sophomore has been shooting the ball very well during the preseason. Is he a legit first-round NBA talent after this season? We could get a good answer tonight.
Finally, at Duke I’m looking forward to seeing Matthew Hurt. Especially since he is going to be playing against a Kansas team that led for his services for much of his recruitment. What a chance for a freshman to make a splash. Duke needs his shooting, it’s a big time game, it’s in the Garden and he’s playing a team that could have some bad blood. Does it get any better?
2. FINDING REPLACEMENTS FOR LEADERS IS A SHARED DILEMMA
Looking at the Champions Classic, I see a bond that unites all four teams. They are all going to have to replace leaders at the point of attack.
At Michigan State, the player who will be toughest to replace after this season is obviously Cassius Winston. All-American point guards and natural leaders like him don’t come around often. They thought they had their guy in Jalen Terry but he backed out on them and now it’s on somebody like Foster Loyer to take a big step forward. The Spartans do have A.J. Hoggard coming in and the four-star combo guard could be the answer. He needs to be because it will be hard to find another high end PG this late in the process.
This Kentucky team is a little different in that there isn’t one guy we can point to and say that they are for-sure a Lottery type pick or will be irreplaceable. But, I’m going to go with freshman guard Tyrese Maxey. He’s likely one of the Wildcats best scorers and shooters and he’s got a level of charisma and leadership that will be tough to replace. In fact, a leader like Maxey is the one thing that John Calipari’s No. 2 ranked class is missing at this point. If they could pull off No. 2 overall Cade Cunningham that problem would be more than sufficiently handled.
Kansas figures to lose a lot to graduation and the NBA Draft after this season and the hardest to replace is likely going to be Devon Dotson. Like Winston, he’s an All-American type point guard who also leads his team. The Jayhawks are high on redshirt Dajuan Harris, but they’d feel a lot better if they could add somebody like five-star Bryce Thompson as an additional ball handler.
Like everybody else, Duke is going to rely heavily on their five-star point guard Tre Jones. Back for his sophomore season, Jones is a big-time defender and very good passer who takes care of the ball. Is he ready to score more? Is he ready to lead? Early word is that he is and that presents a problem for next season when he’s more than likely gone. Five-star Jeremy Roach has committed, but he’s also been out for a year with injury and none of us is exactly sure how ready he is to come in and replace Jones.
3. WHAT WOULD I CHANGE?
In my opinion, the Champions Classic is the best early season event in all of college basketball and the fact that it features the top four teams in the country this season is a testament to that. I don’t see any reason to change much about it and I love attending as a fan each year. But, I do think the event could use a few tweaks.
Most of all, I’d like to see it either rotate between the campuses or move the venues closer to each school. A Durham, East Lansing, Lawrence and Lexington rotation would be amazing and would create some really interesting atmospheres. If not that, how about Kansas City, Detroit, Louisville and Charlotte and play the game in newer NBA-style arenas while also giving each team a “home” advantage once every four years.