Games that count against the record for the 2013-2014 college basketball season may have started last week, but the season really tips-off tonight in Chicago when four of the premier basketball programs in the country take center stage in the Champions classic.
The late game features not only 5. Kansas vs 4. Duke, but Jabari Parker vs Andrew Wiggins. Long before Wiggins reclassified himself year ago, making him eligible to play this season for the Jayhawks, Parker was considered to be the next great one-and-done player. Parker was even grabbing headlines with being mentioned in the same breath as LeBron James. But Parker suffered an injury that cost him all of his conditioning heading into his senior year, and his celebrity dropped off just a bit. The attention turned to Wiggins, the great hope from the Great White North. Wiggins seems to be the best high school player that Canada has ever produced, but whether he can be the best player to ever come out of America’s attic (Steve Nash now holds that honor) remains to be seen. He was not spectacular in Kansas’ opening win, but he didn’t need to be. He appeared okay with deferring to teammates. Whether that indicates passiveness is a bit early. We should be able to tell tonight against Duke if he has more urgency. Parker, however, was outstanding. He was 8 of 10 from the field in only 23 minutes of burn. He is well beyond that injury that limited him as a senior, and showcased why there was such a battle between Duke and Michigan State on the recruiting trail. If there were questions about Duke’s potential this year as a national title player, look no further than Parker.
However, before we get to the nightcap, we get 1. Kentucky and 2. Michigan State. Two power programs with two very different approaches to success. The Wildcats with John Calipari as coach, routinely bring in a new team each year, with many of their featured stars heading to the NBA after their freshman season. Since arriving in Lexington, Calipari has been successful with the formula. He has a couple of trips to the Final Four, with completely different lineups, and one National Championship. Then there is Tom Izzo and the Spartans. No four-year player has missed out on a Final Four appearance under Izzo. That streak is in jeopardy this hear with Adreian Payne and Keith Appling. However, many believe this is Izzo’s best team since the 2000 title team. Makes you wonder if Parker decided on Sparty if there would be any doubt of who would be marching to a title.
The early game has added intrigue after Calipari made comments that it was unfair to his young freshman team to play a veteran-laden team like MSU so early in the season. The flip-side is that Izzo relishes the challenge of playing the hardest non-conference schedule year-in and year-out. While some see Calipari’s comments as whining, newest Wildcat star Julius Randle saw it more as a challenge from his coach. The freshman forward scored 45 points and ripped down 30 rebounds in Kentucky’s first couple of games, and has sent a shot at MSU to bring it on.
It really is hard to gauge just who has the upper hand heading into any of these games. Gun to my head prediction is MSU and Kansas winning their games. Both teams seem to have more depth, which is sometimes needed in these early season games, as players are still trying to get their legs back from several weeks of hard practice. The only results that would somewhat shock me are total blowouts. Too much talent on each side. It should be a fun night in the Windy City.