Champions Classic: Keeping Some Perspective With Tonight’s GamesPosted by nvr1983 on November 12th, 2013
We hate to have to do this because we really love college basketball and we embrace the fact that so many people are excited about this season due to the influx of elite freshmen talent. But we feel like we have to tell you that the Champions Classic is not going to be what everybody wants you to believe. By now you have probably read dozens of columns hyping this event as the best early-season match-up in college basketball history — which at some level it is — and hundreds or thousands (depending on how much time you have on your hands) of message board discussions talking about the implications of these two games. Unfortunately, in the grand scheme of things these two games might be a whole lot of fun but they’re mostly meaningless.
Now this is not to say that the games and the participants playing in them won’t be interesting. According to some reports nearly 80 NBA personnel are expected to be in attendance to watch Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker along with at least a half dozen other potential NBA lottery picks in action. And of course there are the four blue-blooded programs with their Hall of Fame coaches (don’t worry, Tom Izzo, Bill Self, and John Calipari will all be joining Mike Krzyzewski in Springfield someday). On top of that nearly every major college basketball media outlet will be represented as well as quite a few NBA media members. Obviously, they can’t all be wrong. Right?
So what’s not to love about the Champions Classic? The obvious issue here is the time of the year. Early-season basketball is almost always ugly and with so many freshmen playing prominent roles it will probably be even more obvious than usual. There is also the much-debated issue about the new foul rules that so many people think is going to ruin the game. To some degree they are right. Even though many of the key players in tonight’s games are freshmen and they should not have any “bad” habits from previous college seasons to unlearn, there is a decent chance that the officiating will be a major issue in at least one of these games. That is not to say that we will see two teams rack up 73 fouls like Seton Hall and Niagara did on Saturday. The players and coaches on these teams are too skilled and intelligent to let something like that happen to them, but there is the possibility that the new rules could affect the games to a lesser degree.
Officiating aside, it should be clear to all of those who caught any of this weekend’s action that very few teams played what we would consider clean basketball. For all of their talent, Kentucky was only up by seven points on UNC-Asheville early in the second half on Friday and of course there is their free throw shooting (an ugly 65.1 percent on 86 attempts). Kansas was not much better in shooting 62.8 percent from the charity stripe on 43 attempts in its win on Friday over Louisiana-Monroe. Duke was slightly better at 68.8 percent on 32 attempts on Friday night while Michigan State managed what appears to be an extremely impressive 80 percent from the free throw line that might be a sign of a veteran team. That is until you notice that they only took a total of five free throw attempts against McNeese State. How does a team with as big of a talent advantage as Michigan State has against McNeese State only manage five free throw attempts in a game?
This is probably being too harsh on these teams as they won their games over the weekend by an average of 31 points and it is possible that they may continue to struggle to shoot free throws (hello, Memphis 2008 — wait, that team didn’t exist…) or have some other glaring weakness in their game. The point is that none of these teams at this time are anywhere close to finished products. If you could ask their coaches for an honest answer, we are certain that all four of them would admit that their teams in their current form would get destroyed in March.
The point here is that you should enjoy these games as an early season showcase of some of the best talent in college basketball, but don’t try to take too much out of the results themselves. I remember sitting in Madison Square Garden two years ago as the media fawned over Mike Krzyzewski winning his 903rd game to surpass Bob Knight as the winningest men’s coach in Division I history. The second game, which was mostly ignored by a media horde that made it back to their seats to catch the end of the first half, featured Kentucky with some long and lanky freshman named Anthony Davis, and Kansas, which was looking at a reloading season. That game ended up being a preview of the National Championship played in New Orleans the following April. So while most of the media will be directing your attention to the obvious storyline of the superstar freshman, make sure to keep your eyes open or you might miss something important.
Then there was last year, which featured the much hyped Kentucky vs. Duke match-up with the most recent group of Wildcat superstar freshmen. Both teams showed flashes of brilliance and led many observers at the time to believe they would be threats to make a run deep into March. Duke won the game and held up its end of the bargain making it to the Elite Eight before losing to eventual national champion Louisville. Kentucky, on the other hand, floundered through an up-and-down season on its way to an NIT berth before promptly being sent home by Robert Morris.
So if you want to fawn over some ridiculous play that an 18-year-old makes that leads you to believe that he will supplant LeBron from his perch of Best Player on Earth someday, that’s fine. You will just have to excuse us while we try to keep things in perspective.