The 2016-17 NCAA men’s basketball season opens with the best non-conference tournament of the season: the Champions Classic. No. 3 Kentucky Wildcats face No. 9 Michigan State Spartans, and No. 1 Duke Blue Devils plays No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks. These four blue-blood programs will face off in New York City’s Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15.
Kentucky (UK) Wildcats vs Michigan State Spartans
Every year, Kentucky head coach John Calipari hauls in a top-three recruiting class, and, surprise, surprise, he did it again this season. The Wildcats are pieced together by “one-and-done” basketball prodigies who will carry the team until they bolt for the NBA after their year is up. It happens every year at Kentucky, and this year will be no different. This star-studded roster features three top 10 recruits — Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox, and Malik Monk — and is undeniably one of the most talented teams in the country.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo has a different approach from Calipari. Instead of bringing in a copious amount of supremely talented freshman, Izzo develops his players over the course of four years. The Spartans’ roster is loaded from top to bottom with experienced juniors and seniors, and they have one of the most complete rosters in college basketball. Despite their stark coaching and recruiting differences, both coaches have achieved great success using their preferred methods, as each has won a national championship.
On paper, Kentucky has the edge over Michigan State in this matchup. The reason? Size. The Wildcats have five players 6-feet-9inches or taller, while the Spartans have only three. The Wildcats can control the paint and dictate the rhythm of the game. They have the ability to out-rebound, out-muscle, and outrun the Spartans. If only games were played on paper. The Spartans have one thing the Wildcats don’t: experience. This could make the difference, as Kentucky lacks the leadership and veteran presence Michigan State has. This game is a tossup and will showcase both coaches’ styles, talent vs experience.
Duke Blue Devils vs Kansas (KU) Jayhawks
The rich get richer. It’s easy to say this about Duke. Not only do they have a top recruiting class featuring two top-three prospects — Jaysom Tatum and Harry Giles — they also return most of last year’s star-studded roster — Grayson Allen, Chase Jeter, and Amile Jefferson. Superstar head coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) has assembled yet again the best team in college basketball, the early odds-on favorite to win the National Championship. This Duke team has it all: size, speed, strength, length, depth, and talent. They are as scary a team as any in recent memory, and any loss will be an upset. Don’t expect many of those.
Every year, Kansas head coach Bill Self assembles a roster filled with experience and talent. This year is no different as he pairs the elite guard duo of Frank Mason and Devonte Freeman with highly touted No. 1 recruit Josh Jackson. The addition of Jackson gives Kansas the best backcourt in the country and elevates the already impressive defense. Self prides himself on his defensive mind, and if it produces to the level it’s capable of, this team will stop any offense they face. If there is one team in the country equipped to beat Duke, it’s Kansas. They have a legitimate shot at cutting down the nets come March.
Much like Kentucky vs Michigan State, at first glance, it appears Duke has the edge over Kansas. Not so fast. Not only can Kansas go toe to toe talent-wise with the Blue Devils, they have the experience to power them to victory. Both Duke and Kansas have the size, speed, and talent to take each other on, which is why this game has the makings of an instant classic. It would be no surprise if it comes down to the final possession. This game is a tossup.
The Champions Classic is one of the hottest tickets for the entire NCAA men’s basketball season, and rightfully so. There are few times when four top-10 teams with deep-rooted traditions from different conferences face off in a regular-season tournament. With over 1,000 tickets for sale and a get-in price of $80, TickPick has seen a 33% surge in ticket sales since Nov. 7. This is not surprising as all four teams have some of the most devoted, die-hard, and well-traveled fanbases in all sport. These fans desperately want to see their beloved team in early season action against other blue-blood programs. Winning not only gives fans bragging rights, it’s also a barometer of the team’s potential success. Ticket sales are only going to increase as game day draws nearer, so be sure to get your off TickPick, where there are no buyer fees. The Champions Classic has the makings of an instant classic. Do not miss it.