The 10th Champions Classic is here to unofficially kick off the College Basketball season and this will be like no other and hopefully one that is never replicated. Like most sporting events since March, there will be no fans in attendance for this double header of the premiere schools in the game. The Champions Classic is only set to run through 2022 so let's enjoy it while we can.
Last year these four teams were ranked No. 1 - No.4 Michigan State, Kentucky, Kansas and Duke took those rankings respectively. This year, none are in the top-5 but we still expect a tremendous showdown between these perennial powerhouses. Let's start with #8 Michigan State vs. #6 Duke.
Duke opened their season with a 81-71 victory against Coppin State after their original opener with Gardner-Webb was postponed. (Coppin State is in Baltimore and Gardner-Webb is in Boiling Springs, NC which is about three hours from Durham in case you were wondering.) Last year, Duke had one of their best teams since they won the National Championship in 2015. Unfortunately they never got the opportunity to prove themselves in the tournament and in the meantime have lost key pieces to the NBA including Tre Jones (San Antonio), Vernon Carey (Charlotte), and Cassius Stanley (Pacers), all selected in the second round.
This is Duke though so of course their recruiting class game is strong. In their win against Coppin State, in which they were down 17, the Blue Devils were led by two freshman. The first was Jalen Johnson who went for 19 points, 19 rebounds and four blocks. He had 15 defensive rebounds which set a Duke freshman record in a game. The other freshman is DJ Steward who came off the bench to score 24. It seems like coach Mike Krzyzewski will have many options shuffling his starting lineup this season.
Michigan State is going to have their work cut out for them even though these teams are pretty evenly matched this season. The Blue Devils are 8-1 against the Spartans since 2010. Not to mention they will have to travel to Durham, though they won't have to deal with Duke's notoriously raucous crowd. This game was supposed to open the season on November 10 and be at a neutral site but coach Tom Izzo and Coach K agreed to playing in Duke's backyard because of COVID-19 protocol concerns.
The Spartans looked great in their win over Notre Dame and will look to keep that momentum going on the shoulders of an experienced core even after losing huge pieces in Cassius Winston (Washington) and Xavier Tillman (Memphis) also both in the second round of this year's draft.