Usually college basketball fans have to wait until conference play to feel the excitement of a new season. But since 2011, the State Farm Champions Classic has been giving hoops fans a taste of Madness in November. This year’s tournament will feature a match-up between two top-five teams in Duke (5) and Kentucky (2) in the first contest of the night, and fourth-ranked Kansas will face thirteenth-ranked Michigan State in the second. The games will be the highlight of ESPN’s eighth annual tip-off marathon, featuring 31 hours of men’s and women’s game coverage.
Here are my predictions:
Duke vs Kentucky:
Many will be excited to see display of future NBA stars alone, as this game features the 1st and 2nd ranked recruiting classes in the nation led by Duke’s Brandon Ingram and Kentucky’s Skai Labissiere, but expect Grayson Allen to put on a show, as the sophomore who Coach K said was the best player on the team, continues his impressive run from last season’s NCAA tournament.
With the talent on both rosters, this game is sure to be a thriller. Kentucky is long and I think their frontcourt will give the Blue Devils trouble. I’d give them the edge any day IF they were going up against anyone else other than Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K is a master at making adjustments to account to mismatches and deficiencies. Although I think the Wildcats will exploit the post early, Duke will keep it close enough and make the necessary adjustments. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one went into overtime and came down to free-throw shooting – where the Blue Devils have the edge.
Duke 89, Kentucky 86
Kansas vs Michigan State:
This may be one time when the main event is featured first and although some may tune out after the first game, they’ll be sure to regret it in the morning. Based on rankings and the absence of Spartan big-man Gavin Shilling, some may think the Jayhawks will run away with this one, but Bill Self and crew are only 1-3 in the event. Kansas is coming off an incredible 109-point offensive performance against Northern Colorado. The question is, will that momentum follow them into Tuesday against a Tom Izzo coached team who always play tough on the defensive end?
Although the coaching edge clearly goes to Izzo, Self and crew have enough talent to counter great coaching. This won’t be the prettiest game, but it will be entertainingly close, capping off a wonderful night of college hoops in the Windy City.
Kansas 70, Michigan State 65
College GameDay will broadcast live from inside the arena at 7 p.m. with Rece Davis, along with analysts Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg and Jay Williams. The games commence at 7:30 p.m. with No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 5 Duke, followed by No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 13 Michigan State – all on ESPN.
ESPN’s reveal of the College Football Playoff weekly rankings will also be live onsite in between games with analysts Kirk Herbstreit, Joey Galloway and David Pollack.