We’ve Only Just Begun: Recapping the Tip-Off Marathon and The Champions Classic
By Jared Bursky
The twenty-four hour ESPN College Basketball Tip-Off Marathon has concluded. College basketball is officially back. If you tuned in at any point during the marathon, you would think it is in midseason form. Four of the top five teams played, four matchups featured two ranked teams facing one another; new rules, a ridiculous freshman class, and great coaches…what else is their to say? This could have been a great week; we got it in one day. Don’t go anywhere now because March will be here before you know it.
The “Other Games”
No, the two games at The Champions Classic were not the only games being played Tuesday. Yes, the other games mattered. While all eyes were on Chicago, a great slate of matchups helped kick off the college basketball season early Tuesday morning. For some, it is never too early to start building a case for Selection Sunday. Here were some of the key scores:
BYU 112 – Stanford 103: The two started off the marathon with a shootout, as BYU was able to outlast Stanford with hot shooting down the stretch. BYU will look to challenge Gonzaga as the new team in the WCC.
#16 Wichita State 66 – Western Kentucky 49: The Shockers shocked everybody by making it to the Final Four this year. This team will be a force again as they pulled away from WKU in the second half.
Quinnipiac 67 – La Salle 73: La Salle was able to battle back and defeat Quinnipiac after dropping their season opener. After an improbable run to the Elite 8 last year, La Salle will try to repeat their March success after losing just one player from last year’s team.
LSU 90 – Massachusetts 92: A close game throughout, UMass was able to edge out a win against LSU with good free throw shooting and 24 points from their leader Chaz Williams.
West Virginia 82 – Virginia Tech 87: An odd game. WVU jumped out to a big lead in the first half but Va. Tech responded with a 34-9 run that put them in the lead for good. Freshman Ben Emelogu is a name to keep an eye on for VT.
South Carolina 74 – #23 Baylor 76: Baylor somehow pulled out a victory while not scoring in the last seven minutes. Sharpshooter Brady Heslip led the Bears with 18 points as they held on against Frank Martin’s Gamecocks.
NC State 57 – Cincinnati 68: Both of these teams were ranked consistently throughout the 2012-2013 season but both seem to be in a little bit of a rebuilding mode. Cincinnati was able to pull away because of its leader Sean Kilpatrick.
#14 VCU 59 – #25 Virginia 56: A close game throughout came down to the final seconds. VCU’s Treveon Graham nailed a three with just over a second left to secure a victory against a game Virginia team led by Joe Harris (18 points).
#11 Florida 53 – #20 Wisconsin 59: A classic Badger grinder. Bo Ryan preaches defense and his Badgers were able to control the tempo. Keeping games in the 50s bodes well for Wisconsin, who was led by Ben Brust.
WHAT WE LEARNED FROM “THE OTHER GAMES
- Wichita State is an awesome college basketball environment, and they are still a very good team
- Massachusetts guard Chaz Williams is an unknown stud (24 points vs. LSU)
- Baylor may not be as good as we thought.
- NC State may struggle in the ACC this year
- VCU is tough and knows how to win (10-1 run to finish the game at #20 Virginia)
- Wisconsin will always be Wisconsin, a hard-nosed, tough and rugged team.
The Champions Classic
68 NBA representatives attended the two games in Chicago. Four of the top five teams in the country, the top three freshmen in the country, WOW. It is safe to say that The Champions Classic did not disappoint.
Game 1: #2 Michigan State 78 – #1 Kentucky 74
It was experience against youth, and experience won. Kentucky started four freshmen and a sophomore while MSU countered with two seniors, a junior, and two sophomores. Michigan State came out firing, jumping out to quick 10-0 lead. The Spartans dominated the first half from start to finish, leading 44-32 at the break. Kentucky’s star freshman Julius Randle was held to 4 points on 1 of 5 from the field while MSU’s Gary Harris and Adreian Payne combined for 27 points on 10 of 14 from the field. The Spartans were out and running early and often and their defense was smothering. Kentucky seemed out of sorts on both ends. The second half was a different story. Payne got in early foul trouble for the Spartans, which allowed Randle to get loose. Randle had a monster second half and finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds. Kentucky’s confidence began to grow and it carried over to the defensive end. Michigan State became stagnant on the offensive end as Kentucky battled back, finally tying the game at 66 before the Spartans took the lead back for good. Branden Dawson’s tip in with about 5 seconds left sealed the deal for Michigan State.
In my game preview I said that Michigan State had to take care of the ball and Kentucky must rebound. Oddly, both did an outstanding job, respectively. Michigan State only turned it over seven times while Kentucky coughed it up 17 times. However, Kentucky shockingly outrebounded MSU 44-32. Something had to give. The 17 turnovers by Kentucky were the difference. They often turned into fast break points for the Spartans, especially in the first half. Transition defense was a clear weakness of the Wildcats.
UK clawed back into the game and finally broke even at 66. However, Michigan State answered as Denzel Valentine found Keith Appling for an open three in the corner. Gary Harris stole the ensuing inbounds pass and hit a driving layup to reclaim a five-point lead for the Spartans.
MSU: Keith Appling (PG) 22 points, 8 assists, 8 rebounds.
UK: Julius Randle (F) 27 points 13 rebounds, 1 assist
WHAT WE LEARNED
- Michigan State is the best team in the country as of November 13th.
- Gary Harris is not just the top candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year; he is one of the best players in the country. He is a solidified NBA Lottery pick.
- Michigan State goes as the transformed and improved Keith Appling goes.
- This team has as good of shot as anyone to make the Final Four.
- Kentucky is again inexperienced, but they are tough. This team will be just fine and will only get better.
- Julius Randle is undoubtedly the best player and leader for Kentucky. Simply put, he is a beast.
- Kentucky’s strength is attacking the rim; they are not a great three point shooting team (4 for 20 from distance).
- Final Four good without a doubt, if they start playing a “more together” type game, the sky is the limit.
Game 2: Kansas 94 – Duke 83
Do not let the final score fool you. This was a close game throughout. It was back and forth with the two exchanging leads constantly. It was once again a battle of experience and youth. Duke’s starters included a senior, a junior, a third year sophomore (via transfer), a true sophomore and a freshman. Bill Self played seven freshmen in his rotation Tuesday. An even game throughout, neither team established a clear edge early. One thing that was a constant was the execution of Kansas. We saw many instances of Bill Self’s greatness as a coach last night, first with a beautifully designed backdoor out of bounds play for Andrew Wiggins. Speaking of Wiggins, he only played nine minutes in the first half. While Kansas executed, Jabari Parker took on the role of assassin for Duke. Parker was the lifeline for Blue Devils. He did everything. Defensively he was active, he was hitting from deep, and making acrobatic finishes at the rim. The second half featured the same back and forth action until finally Kansas made its move at the end. Wiggins who finished with 22 (16 in the second half) made crucial plays down the stretch including a step back jumper and a dunk in transition, which fouled Jabari Parker out of the game. Kansas also received breakout performances from big man Perry Ellis (24 points and 9 rebounds) and Wayne Selden Jr. (15 points). Kansas outrebounded Duke 39-24, as Parker’s 27 points and 9 rebounds were not enough.
Kansas received many contributions from many different players in a winning effort Tuesday. Wiggins did not disappoint with 22 points, but the “other guys” were a huge reason why Kansas played so well. Perry Ellis and Wayne Seldon Jr. helped lead the charge for KU and Frank Mason and Naadir Tharpe helped pace the Jayhawk backcourt. On the other hand, Duke did not defend Kansas too well. Kansas’ execution often beat Duke’s defensive pressure. I was particularly impressed with the Jayhawk guards and their ability to get the ball into the paint, whether by entry or dribble drive.
Not a tough one here. Andrew Wiggins put the Jayhawks in front for good in the last five minutes with multiple plays on both ends. His step back jumper and transition dunk put Duke away for good.
Kansas: Perry Ellis (PF) 24 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals
Duke: Jabari Parker (F) 27 points, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals
WHAT WE LEARNED
- Jabari Parker can do it all; Duke will rely on him heavily all season long. He is special, period.
- Duke will need better contributions from their bigs going forward. Kansas outrebounded them 39-24 and Perry Ellis dominated them in the paint.
- Duke has perhaps the most scoring depth of anyone in the country. Parker, Hood, Thornton, Sulaimon, Cook, etc. These guys can fill it up.
- Duke is still a candidate to make the Final Four, but there are some concerns as of now with rebounding and defense. Expect them to improve in both areas.
- Bill Self is a great coach. Okay we didn’t just learn this, but I was shocked at the execution of Kansas. Coach Self had his boys ready to play.
- Kansas, although young, will be just fine. Their freshman, Wiggins, Selden and Frank Mason in particular, were very poised.
- Perry Ellis is becoming a star. He was named to the All-Tournament team last April and he is picking up where he left off. When he plays like this, KU will be a tough out.
- Kansas is once again a Final Four contender, and should win the Big 12 for a 10th consecutive season.
The quality of play we saw over the course of the twenty-four hour marathon was impressive. There are so many good teams with so much talent. This should be an exciting and iconic year in college basketball.
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
The Final Four In November?
By Christian Pierre-Louis
The kind of college basketball that fans will be treated to tonight in the third annual Champions Classic isn’t supposed to happen until early April. Only a few days into the college basketball season, the Champions Classic might just be a sneak preview of the Final Four. Top-ranked Kentucky vs. No. 2 Michigan State is the marquee matchup in the tournament tonight at the United Center in Chicago. It’s the earliest in the season the top two teams have faced each other, and the first game between Nos. 1 and 2 since 2008. Duke and Kansas play in the nightcap, giving the tournament four of the top five teams in the country. Before we delve deeper into the individual matchups, it’s worth looking at some of the numbers surrounding this event. Kentucky, Kansas and Duke are three of the four all-time winningest programs, and the four schools have 17 national titles between them. Furthermore, the Wildcats, Spartans, Jayhawks and Blue Devils have been to 24 Final Fours in the past 21 years. It’s safe to say we are talking about college basketball royalty here.
Kentucky vs. Michigan State
Kentucky leads the all-time series against Michigan State 12-10, but the Spartans won the last meeting in the 2005 NCAA tournament in a double-overtime classic. Both teams dominated their respective season opener, with the Wildcats throttling UNC-Asheville and the Spartans handling McNeese State. The battle for the top spot in the country is a classic showdown between experience and raw talent. John Calipari assembled arguably the best recruiting class in the history of the sport and will be relying on those freshmen all season, while Tom Izzo’s trio of Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne give the Spartans leadership that is needed to succeed in marquee contests.
Were this matchup to take place again in March, Kentucky’s incredible depth and ability could be enough. However, it is going to take some time for the Wildcats to reach their full potential with so many young players on the floor at once, and Michigan State will take advantage. Look for Appling and Harris to suffocate the Harrison brothers on the defensive end, forcing critical turnovers in the process. The Spartans will convert the subsequent opportunities in transition into easy baskets.
But it’s not just the harassing defense Michigan State plays that will give Kentucky trouble. You would be hard pressed to find a more physically dominant squad in the country and on the boards than Izzo’s bunch. Between the Spartans’ defense and proclivity for contact, the young Wildcats will grow frustrated by late in the second half.
Prediction: Michigan State 78, Kentucky 72
Duke vs. Kansas
Duke leads the all-time series against Kansas 7-2, a mark which includes a victory in the most recent matchup in the 2011 EA Sports Maui Invitational title game. You’ve heard all the cliches—there’s no “I” in team, basketball is a team game, it’s not about individual matches, etc. In fact, if you talked to Bill Self, Mike Krzyzewski or either of their prized freshmen in the days leading up to this game, you would probably hear those same cliches again. But fans don’t have to live in the boring world of coach speak. The headlines following this matchup will undoubtedly focus on the battle between Wiggins and Parker. And how could they not? We are talking about the presumed No. 1 pick in the next NBA draft in Wiggins and a freshman who was already on the cover of Sports Illustrated in high school and called the best prospect since LeBron James in Parker.
While the freshmen showdown may be the story, the talent surrounding Parker will make the difference in this game. Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, Rodney Hood and even Amile Jefferson are a more formidable surrounding cast at this point of the year than Andrew White III, Wayne Selden, Tarik Black and Perry Ellis.
The Jayhawks, in a similar fashion to Kentucky in the first contest, are very talented but don’t quite have the experience to win this game at this point in the year after replacing all five starters (the story will be different in March for both squads).
Prediction: Duke 81, Kansas 73
Christian Pierre-Louis is a journalism major at Seton Hall University. He is a HUGE fan of the, LA Lakers, NY Giants, and NY Yankees. He is also an assistant sports producer at Seton Hall’s radio station WSOU 89.5 FM. You can follow him on twitter at @CPL_78.