The inaugural weekend of the 2017-18 college basketball season has come to a close without any major surprises. As expected, the powerhouse programs of the NCAA ran through their mid major opponents with relative ease. At this point, #25 Texas A&M’s demolishment of #11 West Virginia has been the only game of consequence. That will change Tuesday night with the Championship Classic, as #1 Duke faces #2 Michigan State and #4 Kansas takes on #7 Kentucky.
Let me tell ya’ boys, I’ve already worked up half a chub just thinking about this action. If you need Viagra to get it up for this one, then you’re not a college basketball fan. Tuesday night’s games will literally feature the best coaches leading the best teams in some of the best matchups we will see all season.
The championship classic tips off with a matchup of the top two teams in the country. Coach K’s Duke team is both one of the youngest and most talented groups he has ever coached. Oddly enough, a team that lost Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard, and Frank Jackson to NBA draft, may actually be better than last year. In addition to superstar captain Grayson Allen, this squad features 4 of the top 10 recruits in the 2017 recruiting class, including Gary Trent Jr. (SG), Trevon Duval (PG), Wendell Carter (PF), and Marvin Bagley III (PF). Trent, Duval, and Carter all looked great in their first two tune up games. Trent is averaging 17 points and 5 rebounds and Carter is putting up 10 and 6. Meanwhile Trevon Duval is averaging a double double with 11.5 points and 10 assists per game. Yet no one has been more impressive than number one recruit Marvin Bagley III.. Bagley didn’t do anything special in his first game, other than set a school record for scoring by a freshman in his debut with 25 points. His second game was more of the same as Bagley scored 24 more and posted 10 rebounds. My colleague Preston has only 3 working brain cells to his name, and even he could tell you that averaging 24.5 and 10 through your first two games is probably not a bad thing. Even from the number one recruit, these numbers are shockingly good, especially given last year’s team’s predilection for guard play and outside shooting, over front court play. Of course, these amazing stat lines came against inferior opposition. It will be interesting to see how Bagley performs with a stud like Jaren Jackson guarding him.
Michigan State have top a 10 recruit of their own in the aforementioned Jaren Jackson (PF). He too burst onto the scene by recording 13 points and 13 rebounds, in addition to establishing himself as a rim protector with 4 blocks. However, Jackson may be the least of Duke’s worries as National Player of the Year favorite, Miles Bridges (SF), also comes to town. Bridges started off this season where last year’s left off by notching 20 points and 10 rebounds in his season opener. It sounds crazy to say, but even the most talented team in the country in Duke may not have the athletes to stop Bridges Tuesday. The guy was a lottery talent last year and should be posterizing grown ass men in NBA. However, he’ll have to settle for Marvin Bagley Tuesday night. In addition, to Bridges, Tom Izzo’s squad is bolstered by a number of talented sophomores returning from last year’s highly ranked recruiting class including Nick Ward (C), Josh Langford (SG), and Cassius Winston (PG). The fact of the matter is that both teams have the personnel to win this game. It should be an early season classic, but I’d be an idiot to even try to call this one. But I am an idiot, so I’ll give the edge to to Duke based how well-rounded they have looked on the offensive end.
The second game of night may be even more exciting depending on who you ask. Every new year means an entirely new roster of 5 star recruits for Kentucky. Conversely, the Jayhawks’ strength lies within their upperclassmen. Coach Cal’s team consists of the typical slew of top end recruits, and NBA draft hopefuls including Hamidou Diallo (SG), Kevin Knox (SF), PJ Washington (PF), Nick Richards (C), Quade Green (PG), and Shai Gielgeous-Alexander (PG). The only figures they return from last year are sophomore forwards, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeyea-Jones. Even by Kentucky’s standards, this team is incredibly young, and they have looked it through the first two games. Calipari has played with a bunch of different lineups throughout the preseason and first two games. The Wildcats still seem to be searching for an identity as a pecking order has yet to be established. Thus far, It seems that Diallo and Knox will carry the scoring load, but it is hard to say that with any confidence. Despite starting 2-0, Kentucky has yet to find their rhythm, surviving tight contests with Utah Valley and Vermont. As a result, they have fallen from #5 to #7 in the AP poll. They will have to get it together quickly to have any hope of beating Kansas.
Kansas’s Roster is headlined by senior point guard, Devonte Graham. He takes the reins form Frank Mason as the leader of the Jayhawk’s offense. Graham played some minutes at point guard last year, but functioned more off ball as a 2 guard because of the presence of Mason. Nevertheless, he looked very comfortable as the primary ball handler in Kansas’s first game. Graham, who is already known as a terrific shooter, was looking to get his teammates involved all night and demonstrated a great feel for the point guard position. In addition to Graham, Kansas returns starters Svi Mykhailiuk (SF), Legerald Vick (SG), and 2016 5 star recruit Udoka Azubike (PF). Though perhaps the most intriguing part of this Kansas team are its new additions. Mississippi State transfer, Malik Newman, was a top 10 Recruit in 2015 who many expected to be a lottery pick in the preseason. Although things did not pan out for Newman in Starkville, the sharpshooter will have a chance to come together with Graham and Vick to form one of the best backcourts in the country. But as good as the Jayhawk’s backcourt is, their frontcourt may be just as potent with the addition of 5 star freshman power forward, Billy Preston. Kansas’s blend of youth and experience has them looking far more comfortable than Kentucky early on in this season. It is a shame this matchup comes so early for the wildcats, as they will likely be a worlds better team months from now. Kentucky is rarely an underdog, but the Jayhawk’s should be the favorite in this matchup. I have not lost a single basketball pick all season so trust me when I say that. I haven’t won a pick either but that not important…