College basketball has finally arrived! We have over 100 games tipping off on Tuesday, but two of these games clearly stand out over the rest. We have the usual four suspects playing in the Champions Classic, which is one of my favorite events of the college basketball season. This year holding the event with fans at Madison Square Garden only makes it that much better. Let’s breakdown these tremendous matchups.
Kansas vs. Michigan State
The Jayhawks are coming off an embarrassing tournament exit last season, but are reloaded to potentially win it all in 2021-22. Kansas returns its big man David McCormack, along with key wings in Christian Braun and sharpshooter Ochai Agbaju.
Aside from returning some top-end talent, the transfer portal was also very kind to the Jayhawks. Remy Martin comes to Kansas with four years of PAC-12 hoops under his belt, and the starting PG for Arizona State the past three seasons. Martin’s averaged north of 33 minutes per game each of the past two seasons, scoring 19.1 points with close to four assists and three boards. He’ll be a massive anchor for this team as a fifth-year PG with a lot of experience playing at a high level.
Kansas also brings in Sophomore transfer Joseph Yesufu from Drake. Yesufu was the sixth man for the Bulldogs last season, who if you recall, had a tremendous season. In just 22 minutes per game, Yesufu averaged 12.8 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.8 helpers. He also shot over 38% from downtown and 81% from the line. Jalen Wilson will be suspended for this game for the Jayhawks, but the roster has plenty of experience and depth to survive without one of its talented wings.
Sparty has a couple of bright spots, but I don’t see how they have enough in this game. MSU clearly needed a leader to replace Cassius Winston, and Tom Izzo did his best to do that with Tyson Walker — a transfer from Northeastern. Walker will certainly help, but this is a big step up for him. There are some other versatile upperclassmen that can make an impact for MSU, like Joey Hauser, but the rest of this team is incoming freshman. While Izzo certainly got talent, it’s a big ask to expect them to be ready to take this game down to the wire against KU.
This one opened a one-point spread, and with the market moving against me, I’ll play some spread and moneyline on the Wildcats.
Let me start with the Duke side in this one. If they win this game, it comes down to the Blue Devils dominating the paint, and Kentucky simply missing shots. Duke has a lot of size that I do expect will give Kentucky issues at times. Mark Williams came on strong at the end of his Freshman season, and at a legit seven-feet is one of the top shot blockers in the nation.
Paolo Banchero is one of the elite Freshman in the nation, and should be one of the top bigs in the country this season. We’ll see how he looks in his debut. Marquette transfer Theo John also provides another experienced big off the bench for Duke. But that’s where the upside ends for Duke, and notice the lack of guard play.
Now let’s move on to Kentucky, who we usually say is loaded up with Freshman and won’t have any experience in the season opener. That couldn’t be further from the truth this season.
Yes, the Wildcats do add highly touted recruit TyTy Washington, but his backcourt-mates bring a ton of experience. Sahvir Wheeler is a massive get from Georgia, and should be the primary PG in this three-guard lineup. He averaged 14 points, 7.4 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game in the SEC with Georgia last season.
Then there’s Kellan Grady, who’s already a 2,000-point scorer in college basketball, stuffing the stat sheet in four seasons in the A-10 at Davidson. Grady was a four-year starter there, shooting over 34% from downtown in each season, averaging no fewer than 17 points per game. He’ll be ready to give Kentucky a massive scoring boost. That leaves grad studen Davion Mintz as a fourth guard for this team, which gives them tremendous depth (and even more to come when Iowa transfer CJ Fredrick is healthy).
Now Kentucky doesn’t have all the size that Duke does, but it does have more veteran help. Keion Brooks and Lance Ware are back to help in the frontcourt, but yet another transfer will be the crucial piece in this game. West Virginia transfer Oscar Tshiebwe cleans the glass, and does have some experience over the Duke bigs.
Is this a normal John Calipari roster? No way. But with just one headline freshman and a ton of experience, I like this team a lot in the early going and long run.
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