Each year, ESPN’s Champions Classic is promoted as the real tip-off to the college basketball season. It always features a rotation of match-ups among these powerhouses: Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State and Duke.
There are also reports that the Champions Classic may literally kick-off the NCAA season next year, with no games tipping off before it. This year, it featured a sloppy matchup of Kansas versus Kentucky (Jayhawks win 65-61) and a Duke victory over Michigan State that left the viewer asking, “was this really a matchup of number 1 and number 2?”
However, tonight when Florida plays Duke and Michigan State plays North Carolina, it will feel like the Champions Classic that would have been if the planners had the ability to pair the nation’s best four teams.
Kansas’s roster is thinner than recent years. Kentucky’s is even more immature than recent years. Meanwhile, top 10 ranked teams like (2) Arizona is struggling (losing three consecutive games) and (6) Wichita State is without its primary scoring wing, Markis McDuffie. Swapping-in defending champion UNC with an incumbent veteran roster of Gators would be the ideal substitute for a Champions Classic.
Luckily, for college basketball fans, they’ll get that final four after a full slate of football Sunday. It’s the semifinals of the PK80 Invitational!
(1) Duke versus (7) Florida
TIP OFF 10:30 EST
Let’s start with Florida. The gators are returning an experienced team, highlighted by its gritty backcourt of KeVaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza. Add-in Russian-born guard Egor Koulechov, Kevarrius Hayes, and a load of talented underclassmen, and you have a national contender. The Florida Gators already accomplished a great resume-builder during this tournament. They beat the defacto hometown team, the Gonzaga Bulldogs (games in Portland). Meanwhile, Duke had an impressive win itself. They came storming back in the final stanzas against a Texas Longhorns team that looked like it could bring Havoc to teams down the line. It’s Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s youngest starting roster since 1982-83. The Blue Devils start senior Grayson Allen with 4 freshmen, headlined by forward Marvin Bagley III.
(4) Michigan State versus (9) North Carolina
TIP OFF 8:30 EST
UNC is somehow overlooked at number 9. Yes, they have lost Justin Jackson and Tony Bradley to the NBA draft. However, they return importance piece of last year’s championship team. They include Joel Berry II, Luke Maye, Kenny Williams and Theo Pinson. Michigan State has the next coming of Vince Carter in Miles Bridges, along with a huge cast of sophomores who can grow into something special.