Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. And man, will those be tested this winter. Today’s forecast high temperature? 39 degrees. It’s November 15. It’s only going to get worse from here.
WINNER: The Champions Classic
Though there was many a spectacular game in the first week of the season – and some of that is certainly just because it’s good to be back watching hoops – the Champions Classic proved a worthy spectacle to start the season. In its third year, the season-opening tournament with four of college basketball’s best programs may have hit its pinnacle thus far. The four programs are each ranked in the top five of the Associated Press poll, and each came in with significant star power. Despite facing Kentucky’s heralded group of freshmen – stop me if you’ve heard that before – Gary Harris, Keith Appling and Adriean Payne took Michigan State to a wire-to-wire 78-74 win in game one of the double-header. Appling’s performance was particularly spectacular, scoring 22 points, grabbing eight rebounds as a point guard, getting eight assists and nabbing four steals. The Wildcats’ most-touted recruit, Julius Randle, shone through despite the early-season backcourt inconsistency John Calipari’s teams are sometimes prone to. The freshman put up 27 points and 13 rebounds despite going against Payne for most of the night (though he did have eight turnovers). But game one’s one-freshman show was trumped by game two’s two-freshman battle. Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Duke’s Jabari Parker went back and forth throughout their teams’ match-up. Parker’s 27-point, nine-rebound stat line may have outshone Wiggins’ 22-and-six showing, but the pair’s captivating late-evening game ended up going to the Canadian’s Jayhawks, 94-83. The good news for this season is that Randle, Wiggins, and Parker all looked like the stars they were billed to be coming into college. The good news for the next three seasons? The four schools have agreed to do these neutral-site games for the next three years. See you next year.
(Related winners: Michigan State and Kansas, for getting a couple of top-level non-conference wins; Randle, Wiggins and Parker, for matching their hype. Related losers: Tarik Black, who only had a single rebound and three fouls for the Jayhawks; Kentucky and Duke.)