Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, we have been left without a lot of the usual sporting events, but those that have happened certainly look a little different. That was the case with the Champions Classic, usually an epic double-header with Michigan State, Duke, Kentucky, and Kansas, but the pandemic resulted in the event being split up.
Duke jumped out early, but Michigan state worn the Blue Devils on their way to a 75-69 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium while Kansas Kentucky was thrown off balance by falling from a half-time deficit to 65-62 in Indianapolis brought. Let’s look past the boxing score and see what we’ve learned about these programs in the process.
Everyone knew the Spartans would have to replace their two goalscorers after Cassius Winston graduated and Xavier Tillman turned pro. Tom Izzo’s newest team doesn’t have a ton of star power, but it’s a very deep unit that could prove quite beneficial given the uniqueness of this season.
Aaron Henry and Rocket Watts made their mark, easing the offense and combining 34 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. However, key to today’s win was the contributions the state of Michigan received from its secondary players.
Malik Hall and Joey Hauser played big minutes and contributed on either end of the floor, but the biggest surprise was the appearance of second striker Julius Marble. Few expected Marble to be a major rotation player, but he went 5-on-5 off the floor to contribute 12 points in 12 minutes and earn more playing time in the future. The advent of key depth for the Spartans will give them the chance to compete at the top of the Big Ten against greats like Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa.
Mike Krzyzewski is a Hall of Fame coach for a reason, but he certainly cut his job out for him. Duke came out of the gate hot against the Spartans and dominated either end of the floor for the first five minutes of the game, but they couldn’t fully exert themselves for the rest of the night.
Jalen Johnson showed lightning but had a subdued second game, scoring only 11 points and taking four rebounds after posting 19 and 19 double-doubles in the opener. Wendell Moore and D. . J. . Steward hit the floor with a combined 0-16 and played a key role in Duke’s pathetic 32. 3 percent shooting performance at night.
There’s no doubt that the Blue Devils have plenty of good basketball players, but with a rotation for freshmen and sophomores, it will be some time before Krzyzewski gets this group to play cohesive team basketball. The state of Michigan revealed some shortcomings Duke could work on ahead of the conference game.
The Wildcats have a lot of newbies, but unlike Duke’s harvest, this team has the chance to be extremely dynamic in the defensive field. The key to all of this is the incredible length the Kentucky roster is, as evidenced by this incredible graphic in the first half of their matchup against Kansas.
All five starters in Kentucky had a wingspan of at least 6 feet 7, four near a wingspan of 7 feet, which devastated the Jayhawks early and often. Kansas struggled early to cope with the length of the Wildcats, falling 6:13 in the first half 26:13 before a six-point game in the half.
The problem was, Kentucky had big problems putting the ball in the basket and getting 36 turnovers against just 13 assists in the last two games, which was problematic. The fact that Kansas caught up despite a shootout of just 29 to win. 9 percent of the ground is a direct indictment of the problems the wildcats have offensively.
John Calipari needs to get to the bottom of his team’s offensive inefficiency quickly to avoid wasting a potentially deadly defense this season. With no matchups against Georgia Tech, UCLA and Louisville ahead of the SEC game, there is a chance the situation could get worse before it gets better for the Wildcats.
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World News – AU – Champions Classic: 3 Things We Learned
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