Tuesday Preview: The Champions Classic

By Jared Bursky

How great is it that the Final Four begins tonight? Hold on a minute. It’s only November 12th. You would hardly know with the matchups in Chicago tonight. At 7:30 #1 Kentucky takes on #2 Michigan State, followed by #4 Duke and #5 Kansas, in what may be a preview of this year’s Final Four. Here is what you should be looking for in the two matchups:

#1 Kentucky v. #2 Michigan State (7:30 ESPN)

Quick Notes

  • The game will be the earliest ever matchup between #1 and #2. Previously the earliest was November 29th.
  • Kentucky’s freshman class, regarded by many as the best class ever, battles against its first ranked opponent.

For Michigan State to win it must:

TAKE CARE OF THE BALL. Michigan State opening the season with major problems in the turnover department has seemed to become an annual event. Oddly, as March approaches these problems are typically solved, but to beat a team with the talent of Kentucky, turnovers cannot happen. Easy baskets will feed confidence to this young Wildcat team, and that’s when they will really start rolling. Michigan State needs to be efficient on offense lead by the evolving Keith Appling on the point guard position. Making life tough on Kentucky may show their inexperience.

For Kentucky to win it must:

REBOUND. We all know Michigan State will rebound at a high rate on both sides of the ball. Kentucky’s toughness will be tested most on the boards. For the Wildcats to win, they MUST compete on the boards, especially on the defensive end. If Michigan State imposes its will on the offensive boards, Kentucky will have a hard time. Extra possessions for the likes of Harris and Payne are bad news. The Wildcats have the athletes to rebound effectively, but with their inexperience, they have yet to see a machine like they will see tonight. Expect the team that controls the boards to have the inside track to win this game.

Key Matchup:

Branden Dawson/Adreian Payne vs. Julius Randle

Randle is undoubtedly the pulse of this Kentucky team, posting double-doubles in both of his first two games. If Michigan State can contain him and make him work on the defensive end it can be successful. On the flip side, if Randle gets into a rhythm early and attacks the boards like he has been, Kentucky could build confidence early and turn that into success.

X Factors:

Michigan State- Keith Appling, PG: This year will be Appling’s third year at the point. Entering his sophomore year he transitioned from the off guard position. If he can take care of the ball, provide some scoring, and distribute to Harris and Payne, Michigan State can come out of Chicago with a win.

Kentucky- Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson, C: One seven foot center is dangerous, who knows what the possibilities are when a team has two. Kentucky does. You know Izzo wants to establish his guys in the paint early. If these two can provide rebounding and rim protection, Kentucky will be in great shape.

#4 Duke v. #5 Kansas (9:30 ESPN)

Quick Notes

  • Coach K 3 – Bill Self 0: Self has lost all three matchups against Duke.
  • Another 1 v 2: Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, the top two recruits coming into this year, battle for the first time at the college level.

For Duke to win it must:

APPLY PRESSURE ON THE BALL. Kansas has an inexperienced backcourt with Duke being the exact opposite. Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton need to make life hard for Kansas’ guards. Duke once again has an uncanny ability to make shots from beyond the arc. Open looks for Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood, Cook and Thornton would prove to be a nightmare for Kansas. If Duke pressures the ball to create turnovers and bad possessions, the running game and three point shot could get going early and often. Duke also does not have Mason Plumlee as a rim protector anymore. They do not have great size in the frontcourt. Preventing easy entries into the post will be critical to Coach K and the Blue Devils

For Kansas to win it must:

HAVE SECONDARY SCORING. Kansas cannot rely on Andrew Wiggins to carry them. Duke will attack in waves with different players. Having point guard Naadir Tharpe back from a one game suspension will surely help the Jayhawks, but Kansas needs a group effort. Cue Perry Ellis and Tarik Black. Ellis really started to come on toward the end of last season while Tarik Black, a transfer from Memphis, has the potential to dominate a game in the paint. If Kansas can feed these two guys on the block and score early, Kansas can open up opportunities for Wiggins and fellow freshman Wayne Seldon Jr. to make plays.

Key Matchup:

Andrew Wiggins vs. Jabari Parker

Hold on a minute. We get to see #1 and #2 play at 7:30, and it might get better at 9:30? Wiggins and Parker may be the BEST matchup of individuals we will see all year long. Parker was the number one recruit for so long until Wiggins skyrocketed past him. Does a small rivalry exist here? Maybe. What we do know is that two of the best freshmen and players in America will matchup against each other tonight in Chicago, and the winner of this matchup puts his team in a great position to get a meaningful early season win. This is a must see, period.

Wiggins and Parker will go head to head in this early season matchup (Via USA Today Sports)

Wiggins and Parker will go head to head in this early season matchup (Via USA Today Sports)

X Factors:

Duke- The Bigs: Discounting Parker whose versatility will have him in different spots, Duke’s big men accounted for only 15 of its 111 points in its opening game win vs. Davidson. Amile Jefferson and Josh Hairston in particular, need to provide rebounding, toughness, and more offensive output. With incredible scoring and versatility from its guards, Duke will cruise if this happens.

Kansas- Andrew White III, G/F: This 6-6, 210 sophomore chipped in 12 points in Kansas’ first game. More importantly he nailed 3-5 attempts from beyond the arc. Kansas does not have a bevy of shooters to rely on, so if White can come off the bench and make shots, pressure will be taken off the shoulders of Wiggins. If White is in rhythm and Kansas decides to attack from the inside out, Tarik Black and Perry Ellis will have a great spot up option to kick out to.

______________________________________________________________

Jared Bursky is a freshman Physical Education major at SUNY Cortland. He was a Captain and starter for his high school basketball team and is pursuing coaching basketball at either the high school or college level. He roots for the Isles, Yanks, Jets, and Knicks but his favorite sport to watch is college basketball. You can follow him on twitter at @jbhoops10

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