While it isn’t a true early season College Basketball tournament, per se, the Champions Classic in Chicago is the year’s first true blueblood event. No #1 Duke and No #2 Michigan State followed by No #4 Kansas and No #5 Kentucky at the United Center tonight trumps the National Basketball Association trio of events. College Basketball Free Pick: Kentucky vs. Kansas.
The two winningest programs in college basketball history take the home of the Chicago Bulls hardwood tonight. And the coach-speak of John Calipari has been tried and true the past month. “We will be ugly early,” Calipari told the media on Kentucky media day. “That’s just how it’s going to be.”
Jayhawks’ head coach Bill Self isn’t as adept at handling the media or the national expectations as Calipari but both coaches are familiar with tonight’s setting. An early season event in which more is made of than should be.
Kansas played a preseason event against a quality Missouri squad in a neutral setting like tonight’s. His squad offers a mixture of youth and experience in tonight’s Classic. Kansas swarmed Tennessee State in their season opener at historic Allen Field House in Lawrence. The ‘Hawks made its first nine field-goal attempts and shot 60 percent in an eventual 92-56 home victory.
The Jayhawks are led by point guard Devonte’ Graham and in combination with Udoka Azubuike, Lagerald Vick, Malik Newman, Marcus Garrett, Svi Mykhailiuk along with others comprise a mix of youth and experience that aims to win their 13th straight Big 12 title.
The Wildcats are simply a mixture of youth. The current roster has a total of 12 freshmen or sophomores. Calipari has played eight freshmen 15 minutes or more in the team’s first two games.
ESPN has given this Champions Classic significant coverage. On Tuesday morning staff writer Myron Medcalf wrote “Of the 11 scholarship players on Kentucky’s roster this season, eight were rated as five-star prospects coming out of high school. Two others were ranked in the ESPN 100. The 11th dominated for New Zealand at the FIBA U19 World Cup in July. But Calipari’s preseason comparison for this team wasn’t to one of his title-winning or Final Four teams. It was not to last year’s 32-win group.”
“It’s like knowing you’re having a root canal every day,” the Kentucky head coach told ESPN in October. “You walk in, and you know it’s coming. And someone will say, ‘Well, you’ve done this before.’ Yeah, I’ve had root canal before, and it’s very painful.”
The event has always been scheduled the first or second week of the season, which means all four teams are still trying to integrate transfers and freshmen. Most years they’ve only played one game, and for Kansas, that involved flying from Hawaii to New York in between last season.
Especially relevant is that Kentucky has two games under the belt heading into tonight’s primetime event. The Wildcats were inconsistent in their first pair of contests while overcoming a nine-point halftime deficit in the season opener against Utah Valley and capturing a four-point win over Vermont on Sunday.
Finally, while no more talented than the Wildcats the Jayhawks do have the experience edge tonight. In conclusion expect Devonte Graham and Bill Self’s Jayhawks to outlast a young Kentucky crew whose leading returning scorer, Wenyen Gabriel, averaged just 4.6 ppg last season.
College Basketball Free Pick is a play on Kansas minus the points.
College Basketball Free Pick: Kentucky vs. Kansas