When it was introduced in 2011, the Champions Classic quickly rose to become the crown jewel of ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon. The event was such a success that last November, all four teams – Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State – renewed the deal without hesitation. Tonight marks the start of the second rotation, and the nightcap will pit the two winningest college hoops programs of all-time (4,269 wins, at last count) against each other. Big 12 microsite writer Kory Carpenter (@Kory_Carpenter) and SEC microsite writer David Changas (@dchangas) took some time to preview the matchup.
Kory Carpenter: Few coaches have a shared history like Bill Self and John Calipari. Each began his career as a Larry Brown disciple at Kansas in the 1980s, and they were famously reunited over 20 years later in the 2008 National Championship game, with Self (thanks to Mario Chalmers) taking the first championship match-up between the two. Calipari got even with Self four years later (thanks to Anthony Davis), beating Self and Kansas in the 2012 National Championship game. Aside from Coach K at Duke, there is nobody in the country recruiting like these two; and, depending on whom you ask, they could easily be considered the two best coaches in the country. In the first year of the Champions Classic in 2011, Kentucky cruised to a 75-65 win behind 17 points from Doron Lamb and seven blocks from future NPOY Anthony Davis. Kentucky is favored once again, thanks to a roster that includes more McDonald’s All-Americans than Calipari might know what to do with. Blue-blood problems, indeed.
Both teams should contend for the National Championship this season, but there are always questions this early, especially when facing teams of this caliber. The biggest concern for Kansas has to be post play, specifically rebounding. Kentucky starts three guys as tall or taller than anyone in Kansas’ starting lineup. Then you have 6’9” Marcus Lee, 6’10” Trey Lyles, and 7’0″ Dakari Johnson coming off the bench. The Jayhawks started a pair of 6’8” guys — Jamari Traylor and Perry Ellis — against UC Santa Barbara on Friday night. Beyond that, Landen Lucas (6’10”) and Cliff Alexander (6’8”) combined for 21 more minutes. As a result, UCSB forward Alan Williams had a field day against the Jayhawks’ frontcourt, finishing with 22 points and 11 rebounds on 50 percent shooting. But with all due respect to the future mid-major draft pick, he’s got nothing on players like Lyles, Johnson, and Towns. Kansas’ Ellis has struggled in the past against bigger, physical players, but that will have to change quickly if Kansas has a chance here, because Traylor doesn’t have a polished offensive game and Alexander looks like he will take some time to become a dominant player. Read the rest of this entry »