2021 Champions Classic Preview

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The day we have all been waiting for has arrived. The opening night of the college basketball season, The Champions Classic headlined by Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, and Michigan State at Madison Square Garden is always the jumpstart to the college basketball season.

All four teams have stacked up on talent for the upcoming season, which will make this doubleheader tonight even more special. The matchups for tonight are Michigan State vs #3 Kansas and #10 Kentucky vs #9 Duke. Let’s start with the first game of the night which is the Spartans vs Jayhawks.

Michigan State vs #3 Kansas

7:00pm/6:00 CST

I still feel like Michigan State should be a ranked team to start the season, which makes this a great game to start the night. Michigan State is 2-1 against Kansas in the Champions Classic but has an overall record of 4-6 in the event. Here is a preview of a couple of things you can look out for in tonight’s first game of the doubleheader in New York City.

First, talking about Kansas, Bill Self has a lot to like about his roster for the upcoming season. On paper, this is a game that the Jayhawks should win right off the bat. Kansas returns four of their five top scorers from a season ago, giving them a nice foundation to go after a National Championship. With sophomore, Jalen Wilson suspended for the first four games of the season, leading returning scorer, Ochai Agbaji and the return of big man David McCormack and Christan Braun is a nice little trio to start against Michigan State. Arizona State supersenior transfer, Remy Martin joins the Jayhawks, alongside Drake transfer, Joeseph Yesufu.

One thing to watch for tonight for Kansas is the potential dominance of the frontcourt. Mitch Lightfoot and David McCormack are both seniors, McCormack is going to take the lead role this season in the Jayhawk front-court.

Now onto Michigan State, the Spartans come into the season with a new point guard and some new leaders on the roster. The losses of Aaron Henry, Joshua Langford, and Rocket Watts allow other Spartans to show their leadership. Gabe Brown is one of those players, averaging 7.2 PPG a game last season. He will be in a bigger role for Tom Izzo in 2021-22. Another big addition to the squad is Tyson Walker, a Northeastern transfer who averaged 18 PPG on 44% shooting from the floor.

A lot of questions will be answered tonight for Spartan fans with their new point guard play and the emergence of freshman Max Christie. One thing to look out for tonight with the Spartans is how they use their size offensively with Kansas going with a small-ball lineup. Defensively they will have to hold McCormack in check, given his dominance down on the block.

Prediction: Kansas

#10 Kentucky vs #9 Duke

8:30 PM/7:30 PM CST

One thing to know about Duke is that if Paolo Banchero plays to his abilities, the Blue Devils have a great shot at a national championship. Kentucky brings in a load of transfer talent, what are the keys to tonight for both teams?

Starting with Duke, it looks like AJ Griffin will be able to play in tonight’s game against Kentucky. That is a great thing seeming that weeks ago his injury was looking like he could miss all of November. Seeing Duke’s exhibition games and highlights, the offense looks a lot smoother with a lot more movement. Banchero is a focal point in the offense, which allows for other players to get open off a potential double team.

Kentucky is coming off of a historically bad season a year ago. Getting straight to work, Coach Cal brings in some talent from the transfer portal, as well as a star-studded recruiting class. The back-court is what I am most excited about for the Wildcats. Players like Sahvir Wheeler, TyTy Washington, and Kellan Grady are all going to make an impact on this team.

I think Kentucky will have to let Banchero get his tonight, giving all their focus to other players like AJ Griffin and Trevor Keels. Kentucky’s defense in their exhibitions did not go the greatest, so that will be a key thing to watch for the Wildcats. How they defend Paolo Banchero is the biggest question.

Prediction: Duke

The Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden always delivers in the best of ways. The big kickoff to the college basketball season happens tonight in New York City with two great matchups that you do not want to miss. The action all starts at 7:00 EST with Michigan State taking on #3 Kansas.

With the season starting today, if you want more college basketball news, follow my Twitter, @worldofcollege1

Also, make sure you visit and follow our main basketball Twitter account, @oth_basketball.

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My name is Jacob Heid and I am currently pursuing a Journalism degree from Southern Illinois university. I have been at Overtime Heroics for about a year.