In Chicago tonight at the United Center, No. 2 Kentucky faces No. 5 Duke, while No. 4 Kansas faces No. 13 Michigan State in a double-header at the Champions Classic. With all of the teams except for Kansas coming from last year’s Final Four of the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship, we may have a sneak peak into the late rounds of this year’s March Madness.
While Duke may be ranked No. 5 according to the AP Poll, the 2016 Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings currently have the Duke Blue Devils ranked No. 1. With the Wildcats coming in at No. 2 by both standards, it could be argued that this is a match-up between the two best teams in college basketball. Lead by legendary coaches Mike Krzyzewski (Duke) and John Calipari (Kentucky), as Sports Illustrated pointed out, both teams have been dependent on both freshmen and returning players, despite both teams’ high player turnover rate.
A key player for Duke so far has been sophomore Grayson Allen, who averages 27 points per game after the Blue Devils’ first two match-ups. Allen has also made 17 of his 18 free throw attempts. He’ll have a much bigger challenge in Kentucky, however, than he did against Duke’s first two opponents, Siena College and Bryant University.
On the Kentucky side, the stand-out so far has been Skal Labissiere, a freshman center. Skal has been a very efficient scorer, with an effective field goal percentage of 76.5 percent and a true shooting percentage of 80.5 percent. Most recently, he scored 26 points while going 10-for-12 on the floor. Like Duke’s Grayson Allen, he will be tested tonight much more than his first two games against University of Albany and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
The second half of the double-header at the United Center features the Kansas Jayhawks up against the Michigan State Spartans. This is just the second game of the season for Michigan State, who blew out Florida Atlantic in their season opener. This will be the second game of the season for Kansas as well, after blowing out Northern Colorado four days ago.
The Spartans will be missing two players tonight, as FOX Sports reports. Michigan State’s Gavin Schilling and Marvin Clark will sit out due to toe and foot injuries, respectively. That puts pressure on freshman center Deyonta Davis, who really shined against Florida Atlantic last week.
Those injuries will make it that much tougher to cover a deep Kansas roster that includes such threats as Perry Ellis, Jamari Taylor, and Carlton Bragg. Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, they are still without star recruit Cheick Diallo, who continues to wait for a decision from the NCAA regarding his eligibility.
The first half of the Champions Classic, the Duke Blue Devils vs. the Kentucky Wildcats, will air on ESPN at 7:30/6:30c. Tip-off for the second game, the Kansas Jayhawks vs. the Michigan State Spartans, is scheduled for 10/9c, airing directly after the first game on ESPN.
[Image credit Andy Lyons / Getty Images]