3 reasons why this year's Champions Classic is a tremendous event again
CHICAGO — The Champions Classic is great every year in the sense that it annually offers an early glimpse at some of the nation’s best college basketball teams that double as the sport’s biggest brands.
There have been six so far.
Tuesday night will be the seventh.
They’ve been held in New York twice, Atlanta, Indianapolis and here at the United Center three times, if you count this year, and there’s never not been at least one top-three team on display. The nation’s No. 1 team has been involved four of the past five years. The eventual national champion has been involved twice (2011, 2014). A future No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft has played in the event in three of the past six years. And, obviously, this year could easily make it four times in seven years.
Simply put, the Champions Classic is tremendous. And this year’s version — No. 1 Duke vs. No. 2 Michigan State followed by No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 7 Kentucky — is no exception for three reasons. Here are those three reasons:
1. It features a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown
When Duke-Michigan State tips a little after 7 p.m. ET it’ll be just the second No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in college basketball in the past four years — and only the fourth in the past 10. So we don’t get these often. But when we do they’re usually close. For proof, consider the past four No. 1 vs. No. 2 games:
- Feb. 25, 2007: No. 2 Ohio State 49, No. 1 Wisconsin 48
- Feb. 23, 2008: No. 2 Tennessee 66, No. 1 Memphis 62
- Nov. 12, 2013: No. 2 Michigan State 78, No. 1 Kentucky 74 (Champions Classic)
- Jan 4, 2016: No. 1 Kansas 109, No. 2 Oklahoma 106 (3 OT)
As you can see, those four games were decided by an average of 3.0 points. None were blowouts. All were competitive. So you’d be wise to expect something similar Tuesday night between No. 1 Duke and No. 2 Michigan State. For what it’s worth, the Blue Devils are a 1.5-point favorite.
2. Four Hall of Fame coaches in one building
Kansas coach Bill Self’s induction into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in September means all four coaches in Tuesday night’s doubleheader — the other three are Kentucky’s John Calipari, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo — are Naismith Memorial Hall of Famers. Best I can tell, no doubleheader in the history of college basketball has ever featured four already-inducted Naismith Memorial Hall of Famers. So what the soldout crowd at the United Center will witness are two games featuring four all-time coaching greats — all of whom have won national championships and are still very much operating at the highest level of the sport.
There are only six active Naismith Hall of Famers in Division I men’s basketball. (The other two are North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim.) And four of the six will be working in the United Center on Tuesday night. That’s good stuff.
3. Talent on top of talent on top of talent
Duke, Michigan State, Kansas and Kentucky combined have 10 players on their rosters that are Miles Bridges).. Ultimately, that number could be closer to eight. Or 12. But, either way, a lot of future pros will be at the United Center on Tuesday. That’s the indisputable point. And Game 1 could feature the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft (Duke’s Marvin Bagley) against the 2018 National Player of the Year (Michigan State’s
Bagley and Bridges, in my opinion, are the favorites for those honors. And, at this point, I won’t be surprised if Bagley becomes the first person to be both the Player of the Year and No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft since Kentucky’s Anthony Davis in 2012. The 6-foot-11 forward is that kind of talent. He’s recorded back-to-back 20-10 games to start his college career. Another could be on tap Tuesday night.
Bottom line, this should be fun.
The Champions Classic is terrific every year. But the 2017 version seems bigger and better than most. Needless to say, nothing is guaranteed. But don’t be shocked if we look back in April and realize this was the first big stage of the season for the eventual national champions, eventual Player of the Year and eventual No. 1 pick of the NBA Draft.