It is almost here and I cannot avoid talking about it any longer. It’s college basketball season, baby! (Get well soon, Dickie V).
Of course, for the past decade the season has typically kicked off with the Champions Classic event. The event, which premiered in 2011, features four of the most historically successful programs in college basketball history. Those being Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and Michigan State.
You could argue that Florida, North Carolina and Connecticut should be included sporadically given each program’s multiple titles in the last 20 years but we aren’t here for that today.
Today, I am going to preview the first game of the Champions Classic which will take place in the world’s most famous arena: Madison Square Garden. This will be the fourth time that the event will occur at MSG.
First up is the Kansas Jayhawks against the Michigan State Spartans. Tip off for the game will be at 6:00 pm on Tuesday, November 9th and broadcast by ESPN.
While the Jayhawks enter the season ranked third in both the AP and Coaches Polls, the Spartans are looking to earn some trust as they enter the game unranked. Kansas enters the game as a 4.5 point favorite.
Birds of Prey
Bill Self has put together a heck of a roster for the 2021-22 season that is made up of returnees, transfers and youngsters. Though Kansas will be without junior forward Jalen Wilson due to a suspension following a DUI arrest, this Jayhawks team is still loaded.
Kansas returns three of its other top five scores from last season including Ochai Ogbaji on the perimeter and David McCormack in the paint. Perimeter threat Christian Braun is also still on the roster to complete a trio that gives Self a certain roster continuity that is important.
Youngsters Kyle Cuffe, KJ Adams and Zachary Clemence are all four star recruits and unproven but are obviously talented. A trio of proven commodities also join the Jayhawk backcourt in Remy Martin (19 points 4 assists per game), Joseph Yesefu (12.8 points 38% from deep) and super senior Jalen Coleman-Lands (14.3 points 40% from deep) to provide steady hands and late game scoring punch.
Martin is an upgrade offensively from departed Marcus Garrett but the latter was a big time perimeter defender.
Spartans look to start sharp
Michigan State finds themselves in a bit of unfamiliar territory starting the season among the unranked. Tom Izzo’s group was on the cusp in both polls but broke through in neither.
This Spartan team is not without talent however. While they lack a certain star power, they have a roster loaded with quality depth. Coach Izzo returns seven players that logged 250 or more minutes last season while also welcoming former Northeastern guard Tyson Walker.
Walker was an All-CAA performer last season as well as the CAA defensive player of the year. He averaged nearly 19 points per game along with 4.8 assists and 2.4 steals. While a certain regression is expected when you jump from a league like the CAA to the B1G, you should acknowledge that this guy can still ball.
Some other names you are sure to recognize that return are Gabe Brown, Joey Hauser and Malik Hall. Brown is a legitimate breakout candidate after falling short last season when he was given the same projection.
Even without Wilson, I am still taking the Jayhawks to cover. While the Spartans have the bodies in the frontcourt to potentially slow down McCormack, I can’t see them stopping all of the backcourt options.
Michigan State also has the worst record in the Champions Classic at 4-6 over and have lost in four of their last five appearances.