The Champions Classic is a sneak-peek at some of the top talents in the country, kicking off the season and taking place at the United Center while on a national stage. Between Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State—three of the four made the 2015 Final Four—a lot of talent consistently flows throughout each program.
The fifth annual Champions Classic is tonight, so which top NBA talents should you be on the lookout for between Kentucky/Duke and Kansas/Michigan State? What will be the key matchups for each team trying to begin the season with a quality win?
Kentucky vs. Duke
7:30 p.m. EST
Top Prospects to Watch:
Kentucky and Duke feature some of the most talented freshmen in the country, but the biggest matchup in this game could be between potential number one pick, Kentucky freshman big man Skal Labissiere and Duke senior big man Amile Jefferson. Jefferson has been much-improved as a senior, averaging 15.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game through two games this season and could be draftable if he keeps up this play. Jefferson should challenge Labissiere in the post, but Labissiere has proven to be every bit of the talent many expected, averaging 17.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game on 76.5 percent(!) shooting.
Another interesting matchup remains between Duke shooting guard Grayson Allen and Kentucky combo guard Jamal Murray. The two should be guarding each other at times, and Allen has looked nearly unstoppable early on, putting up 27.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game after two games.
But Murray has been very good in his own right, scoring 13.5 per game with 5.0 assists and 2.0 steals to boot. Kentucky might also use Briscoe’s length and shade Allen towards Labissiere’s length down low to ruin his rhythm, so it should be fun to watch John Calipari come up with a game plan on slowing Allen down offensively.
Duke will need more from incoming freshman point guard Derryck Thornton down the line, and his lack of quality play could hinder the Blue Devils chances in this game. Ulis knows how to control the tempo of the game, and Kentucky’s depth and talent up front could be too much for Duke to handle. Jeter will need to play strong in the paint against this Kentucky team, but it will likely take a group effort on the boards for Duke to win this one.
Kansas vs. Michigan State
10:00 p.m. EST
Top Prospects to Watch:
The top matchup in this one has to be between Kensas junior swingman Wayne Selden and Michigan State’s do-it-all guard Denzel Valentine. The two should be matched up with one another throughout the game, and the winner of this matchup likely leads their team to a victory. Selden was impressive in their opener, putting up 15 points and four assists and, most importantly, shooting 3-of-6 from three. Valentine put up a triple-double in Michigan State’s first exhibition game, and nearly notched the same result in their opening, notching 13 points, eight rebounds and nine assists.
Two freshmen who were McDonald’s All-Americans last year could make a notable impact. Bruising Kansas forward Carlton Bragg put up seven points and three rebounds in their opener while Michigan State’s lengthy and athletic big man Deyonta Davis showed off his potential with 13 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks. Other smaller matchups could make an impact, like Kansas senior forward Perry Ellis against Michigan State’s combo forward Javon Bess and Kansas point guard Frank Mason against Michigan State’s energetic and defensive-minded point guard Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn.
We’re going to miss out on a potential awesome matchup between athletic dynamos because Kansas big man Cheick Diallo has yet to clear eligibility, and Michigan State big man Gavin Schilling has a toe injury, but these two teams should still put on a great game with the talent and experience between the rosters. Look for Mykhailiuk to play much better than from the opener when he scored just five points in 16 minutes. Michigan State is also without forward Marvin Clark. So Kansas definitely has the overall size and talent edge on Michigan State for this game, but expect Tom Izzo to have the Spartans ready to try and pull off the upset.