The Champions Classic lived up to its huge expectations last night when Kentucky and Michigan State battled down to the wire followed by the Freshman led Duke and Kansas teams battling onto the final minutes. With so much to talk about, we thought it only fair to provide 10 takeaways from the NCAA’s thrilling opening doubleheader.
College Basketball made its national debut with style last night, as the good people of ESPN put together a gem of an opening doubleheader heavy on hyped freshmen, who hoop heads have been anxiously waiting to see play. We’ve all probably been spending a borderline unhealthy amount of time staring at YouTube videos in anticipation, most notably for Andrew “Maple Jordan” Wiggins. But whether it was Kentucky’s polar opposite first and second halves, endemic of a young team, the duel between Jabari Parker and Wiggins, or a some extra juice in the Michigan State offense, last night revealed more than an opening night usually does, which is appropriate for such a brilliantly assembled event.
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1. Michigan State is Good On Both Sides of the Ball
It’s unusual for a Tom Izzo-coached team to be out rebounded by 12 and still win, but that happened because this years Spartan team likes to score the basketball in transition as much as grind it out on defense. That’s an important distinction from year’s past and adds another dimension to a team that looked every bit the part of a top team in the country. Despite giving up height to an NBA-sized Kentucky team, the Spartan defense held true to form and complimented the new emphasis on running in the open court. Tom Izzo teams are defined by March and this year’s team has the chops to add to his Hall of Fame resume.
2. Coach John Calipari Was Dead On
Prior to last night’s game, Coach Cal was in midseason form when it came to complaining about his inexperienced freshman. While this was looked at with a knowing smirk from those who’ve heard Calipari hit these themes over the years, during the first half last night he was absolutely right. A team full of NBA talent wasn’t used to playing together yet, nor were they ready to consistently play defense and box out. But they showed flashes of the potential greatness every commentator has prognosticated, particularly Julius Randle, who already looks like a man among boys. If this team is anywhere near their potential in February and March, even Calipari won’t have anything to complain about.
3. These New Defensive Rules Are Gonna Annoy Everyone
With the NCAA trying to limit what were some clunkers last season, a series of new rules and points of emphasis managed to annoy countless commentators and teams whose players rely on tough man-to-man defense and a grind-it-out style. Both Tennessee and Georgetown, who combined for an all-time ugly game around this time last year, have to adjust. Until teams like that evolve, either by playing more zone or simply reaching less on defense, expect a lot of complaining about perpetual free throw shooting competitions between teams.
4. Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins Just Introduced Themselves
From wire to wire, Parker looked the most consistently impressive of the big three freshman that were on display Tuesday night. Randle played well but had way too many turnovers. Wiggins struggled with foul trouble in the first half, but in the second showed flashes of what will make him so intriguing, including the killer three point play that fouled Parker out of the game. Wiggins had quickness around the rim and killer first step were evident all night long. Parker was fantastic in all phases of the game. His size and skill combination make him a joy to watch. At times, he put Duke right on his back, until he fouled out. The comparisons between Parker and Wiggins will continue all season long.
How did I know someone would send me this picture: pic.twitter.com/DAZvzfRHGz
— Jay Williams (@RealJayWilliams) November 13, 2013
5. This Season Is Gonna Be Fun
If this opening salvo was any indication, this NCAA season has more juice than the past several combined. Traditional powers welcoming superstar freshmen that can really play is always good for business. What separates this year from others is the “must see” nature of each of these young prodigies, and the fun projecting them towards the next level. So no matter which currently tanking NBA team gets a top three pick, they’ll be acquiring players with the talent to turn things around very quickly, which is part of the fun of NCAA hoops. But not as much fun as match ups like last night and it’s only November 14, with much more to come.