NCAA Men’s Basketball: Champions Classic Takeaways

On Tuesday night, the college basketball season tipped off. Since 2011, the Champions Classic has been an electric way to start the new year. This year it was no different. On Tuesday night, we were treated to top-ranked Michigan State versus second-ranked Kentucky. And third-ranked Kansas versus fourth-ranked Kentucky. Because of all four teams being ranked as the four best teams in the country and title favorites, expectations were high. With more than 60 NBA personnel on hand, the teams put on two competitive games. In the end, Kentucky topped Michigan State 69-62, and Duke beat Kansas 68-66. What are the Champions Classic takeaways? Let’s find out.

Champions Classic Takeaways

The New Three-Point Line Distance Is A Factor

One of the biggest rule changes this season is the three-point line being moved back. In June, the NCAA ruled the line would move from 20 feet 9 inches to 22 feet, 1¾ inch. This was due to the NCAA wanting to slow the trend of reliance on the three-point shot and improve floor spacing. Out of all the Champions Classic takeaways, this one applied to everyone. During the Champions Classic, almost everybody struggled shooting from three. Kansas was the one team that didn’t (more on that later) and shot 44.4% off of four of nine shots. Duke shot eight out of 24, Kentucky shot six of eighteen, and Michigan State shot a horrid five of 26. Although three-point shooting was a question mark for all of these teams going in, there were some bad misses. For two of the best defenders in the country Tre Jones and Ashton Hagans, whose shooting needed to improve for their draft stock to increase, the Champions Classic didn’t provide the right start.

The Tyrese Maxey Coming Out Party

Before the game, head coach John Calipari admitted he had no idea where his buckets would come from. With a freshmen class including four recruits ranked in the top 36, a returning sophomore backcourt, and experienced post players, it would be the 13th ranked freshman Tyrese Maxey who answered the call. And boy did he ever put his name on the map. Despite coming off the bench, Maxey led all scorers with 26 and showcased sky-high potential. Maxey showed off confidence and swagger, including a deep three-pointer to ice the game that came from Stephen Curry or Trae Young distance. Along with shooting, Maxey looked like John Wall handling the ball and running down the court leading the fast break. Maxey showed his electric ability to drive to the lane, getting into the paint and finishing through contact. After one-game Maxey looks like Kentucky’s best NBA prospect.

Michigan State Is Going To Miss Joshua Langford

When Cassius Winston announced his return for his senior season, Michigan State became the title favorites. However, fellow senior Joshua Langford can’t seem to get healthy. On October 22nd, head coach Tom Izzo announced he would be out until at least January. For as great as Winston is, the loss of Langford’s scoring ability (15.0 PPG last year) showed. Winston was superb (21 PTS, 4 AST), creating open shots for teammates and making excellent passes. But due to a heavy amount of fouls, Michigan State wasn’t able to get into its normal sets on offense due to different personnel. In fact, after losing a 4-3 lead, they never regained it. Rocket Watts and Aaron Henry were expected to contribute on offense, But due to Kentucky’s smothering defense, nobody outside of Winston showcased the ability to create their own shot. Spartan fans better hope Langford is back soon.

Duke’s Experience Leads The Way

Last year, Duke was led by their phenomenal freshmen class that produced three NBA lottery picks. This year, they bring in a talented class, but it was their upperclassmen that led them. Tre Jones iced the game with free throws, ran the offense like a poised veteran, and made Kansas work their rear ends off for their perimeter offense. It was senior Jack White that got the crucial steal in the end. That said, each of the freshmen had their moments. Stretch four Matthew Hurt showed a smooth looking jump shot but was inconsistent throughout. Vernon Carey Jr held his own defensively against the twin tower-like bigs of Kansas in the paint and even went two of two from downtown. And with 13 points, Cassius Stanley showed off the charts athleticism and defense. While the freshmen adapt, Duke will rely on Jones and others to keep the ship steady.

Kansas Has An Offense Problem

It is a miracle that Kansas only lost by two. Kansas played sloppy in the first half, committing a mind-blowing 18 turnovers. Coming out of halftime, Kansas went on an 11-0 run, took the lead, and seemed to have eliminated their turnover woes. After seven straight minutes without a turnover, Kansas proceeded to commit ten in the final 13 minutes. Bill Self chose to start two bigs in David McCormack and Udoka Azubuike which came with pros and cons. Both bigs froze up when a Duke double team came, and the two had a combined seven turnovers. Duke double-teamed Azabuike on every touch. Although Kansas shot the three at a good clip (44.4%), they had terrible spacing and struggled to get looks on the perimeter (9 attempts). If the offense can’t go through the bigs, and Devon Dotson can’t have a spectacular offensive showcase, Kansas will struggle to score.

It’s Only One Game

It’s worth reminding everyone that only one game has been played for these teams. And although there are takeaways from the games, it’s important not to overreact to them. Teams in college basketball are never the same when conference play starts as they are in November. Teams will get healthy, identities will develop, and rotations will shorten. For now, we should all just smile and enjoy the fact that the road to March has officially begun.



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