Kansas Seeking Redemption at the Champions Classic

Posted by Chris Stone on November 17th, 2015

Kansas hasn’t had much luck in the Champions Classic. Since the event began in 2011, the Jayhawks have won just once in four tries — a 94-83 victory against Duke at the United Center in 2013. This year, Bill Self‘s squad returns to Chicago looking for redemption after last season’s embarrassing 72-40 defeat to Kentucky. Kansas isn’t looking to fall so hard again. “We have no plans of having anything like that happen again,” junior Landen Lucas recently said. “That was not something that is OK with us. For the people that were here last year, that is not acceptable, no matter how early in the season it is.”

The last time Kansas won in the Champions Classic, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker were on the floor. (Getty Images)

The last time Kansas won in the Champions Classic, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker were on the floor. (Getty Images)

To avoid another loss, the Jayhawks will look to take advantage of a depleted Michigan State frontcourt. For the second straight game, the Spartans will be without 6’9″ forward Gavin Schillingwho will miss the contest with turf toe. Schilling is one of only three players that size on Tom Izzo‘s roster so Kansas should have plenty of opportunities to challenge the Spartans inside with senior forward Perry Ellis. Although Ellis made only 47 percent of his two-point field goals last season, his ability to draw fouls (5.1 per 40 minutes a year ago) makes him a dangerous matchup against an already thin frontline. Kansas, meanwhile, has one of the deepest groups of big men in the country. Ellis is flanked by a talented corps of bigs that includes Carlton BraggJamari Traylor, Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson. The burden will be on Michigan State’s Matt Costello and Deyonta Davis to defend the Jayhawks’ plethora of post options without fouling them. Limited minutes for either could expose that thin Spartans’ front line.

At the other end of the floor, Michigan State runs its offense through senior guard Denzel Valentine. In the Spartans’ opening night win over Florida Atlantic, the team’s leading returning scorer nearly posted a triple-double, amassing 13 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. Valentine, a 42 percent three-point shooter last season, is joined by an armada of sharpshooters in the backcourt headlined by senior Bryn Forbes and West Virginia transfer Eron Harris. Even though the Spartans attempted just 13 3-pointers against Florida Atlantic, they have the shooters to successfully launch it far more often from deep. Kansas will need to work hard to rotate and contest the shooters on the perimeter, a distance from which they held opponents to just 33 percent shooting last season.

Although tonight’s contest isn’t likely to have ripple effects on either teams’ NCAA Tournament chances, the early season duel in the Champions Classic provides a real test against quality competition that can be used to illuminate necessary areas of improvement. Still, make no mistake: Kansas will be seeking redemption after their embarrassing and frustrating performance in Chicago last season.

Chris Stone (136 Posts)

Chris Stone is a contributor to the Big 12 microsite. You can find him on Twitter @cstonehoops.

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