Champions Classic Recap: Quick reactions to all four teams after seeing them in person at MSG
NEW YORK, NY --- College hoops season kicked off with a bang on Tuesday night, with the Champions Classic pitting four of the premiere programs in college basketball against each other.
Our own Zac Krull was live at the Garden for Tuesday night's double-header, and here is quick reaction on all four teams:
The Jayhawks talent was on full display in this one, as the number of players who can contribute on this team on any given night should be staggering.
Senior Ochai Agbaji was clearly the star of the night, and led the Jayhawks with 29 points on 9/17 shooting in 36 minutes of game time. Agbagi, is someone who has always gotten better throughout his college career and we saw that he could be on the precipice of a huge season tonight. In the first half, Arizona State transfer Remy Marin struggled, which did keep Michigan State in the game but once the second half hit it was a wrap. Martin finished with 15 points on six assists, and the hope is that he is only beginning to scratch the surface of what he can do with the Jayhawks. The obvious hope is that he can continue to score the ball like he did at Arizona State (where he averaged 19 points per game each of the last two seasons) while also limiting mistakes and tournaments.
The fact that freshmen like Zach Clemence and Bobby Pettiford, as well as seventh-year (yes, seventh!) senior Jalen Coleman-Lands show just how deep this team is and can be. The balance of this Jayhawks team is off the charts, while they also possess the perfect combination to compete for a National Championship.
Experience, talent, toughness and good coaching. Watch out.
As the only unranked team in The Champions Classic Field, Michigan State was eager to prove themselves in this event and played very hard, with solid effort throughout the contest. As we speak, The Spartans may not have that one go-to player to rely on just yet, but with freshman Max Christie, Gabe Brown, as well as returnees Marcus Bingham, AJ Hoggard and Julian Marble all having at leas eight points, expect a very blanched effort from Michigan State throughout the season.
Tyson Walker, the major addition for the Spartans as a transfer from Northeastern was limited in this game and it didn’t feel like the Spartans had that offensive firepower to compete with a team as talented and as deep as Kansas, The Big Ten is such a deep league, that Sparty will have their work cut out for them but it’s Tom Izzo.
We know what to expect.
Off the bat, the first thing that came to mind watching this Kentucky team is that it feels totally different than last year. Even in a losing effort, where not many things on the court were easy, the Wildcats were able to make this game with Duke competitive from start to finish. If you’re a Kentucky fan, we know you don’t believe in moral victories, however you have to realize what exactly went down in this game. Freshman TyTy Washington is player Kentucky is going to rely on for scoring all season long - and didn't have his best night, shooting 3 of 14 from the field ultimately paved the way for Washintgton to play 27 minutes for the night. Sahvir Wheeler, the transfer from Georgia put it all out there for Kentucky tonight while logging 38 minutes. There were some ups including 16 points, but also negatives while turning the ball over seven times.
Kentucky’s offense didn't fully click throughout the night, however that did have a lot to do with the stifling defense of the Blue Devils. Duke did not let Kentucky get many clean shots throughout the entire night and even with all of this in play Kentucky was right there.
Put simply, Duke’s top dogs produced and Kentucky’s didn’t on Tuesday night, and it was still competitive until late.
Again, in a glass is half full world, think about it like this: The 2020 Wildcats lose this game by a significant margin and quit early in the first half. That is a really good sign going forward. Oscar Tshiebwe and Jacob Toppin were the bright spots for the Wildcats in this one and will compete each and every night. Tshiebwe dominated this game on the glass recording 19 rebounds and in a very familiar way to what we saw last year, Jacob Toppin came into the game in the first half and limited Duke freshman phenom Paolo Banchero.
You are never happy with a loss but Kentucky shouldn’t hold their heads down completely all the way after a tough loss like this one.
Duke Blue Devils
Similarly to Kentucky, Duke’s 2020 season was one to forget, but this 2021-2022 team told us quickly that the 2020 season compared to this one are completely different animals. After missing the NCAA Tournament and announcing prior to the start of the season that this would be his final season, the hype for The Coach K farewell tour was big coming into this one.
Really the story of the night though wasn't Coach K, but Duke freshman Paolo Banchero and Trevor Keels. The pair led the way, combining for 47 of Duke’s 79 total points. For Banchero this is a guy who immediately when you see him you think is an NBA "lottery pick." That is before you watch what this guy does on the basketball court. Banchero shot 7 of 11 from the field, was efficient and basically did everything you can want from your best player. Paolo even struggled with cramps late in the first half and exited the game for a short time. During that stretch Marquette transfer Theo John stepped up big time providing two rebounds with a plus-minus of +13.
However, the main storyline coming out of this game for the Blue Devils was the other freshman, Trevor Keels. The 6'4 guard from Virginia finished with 25 points on 10/18 shooting from the field. Going into the season, we knew just how good Paolo Banchero might be, but we can’t say the same about Keels. Every time you felt like Kentucky was close to putting an exclamation point on a big run or threatening to take the lead, Keels shut it down immediately. As someone who weighs 230 pounds Keels provides a unique skillset to this Duke offense by being able to play physically imposing as a guard and use his strength to his advantage on the offensive side of the ball. Combine that with also making shots and pure toughness, Duke has themselves a keeper.
The Devils effort on the defensive side of the ball also was impressive and from the start of the game really frustrated Kentucky.
Here's the best part for all four of these teams though: It was just night one. And while many top teams across the country were beating up on bad directional schools, each of these four teams were truly tested by elite competition.
All four should only get better going forward.
Follow Zac on Twitter @Zkrull3
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