Last night’s two college hoops games played at the United Center were the stuff that one would expect of the Final Four. Well, except that the Final Four is many months off and will be played in “JerryWorld” in Arlington, Texas. But last night we were all treated to a preview of what’s to come if the dance goes chalk.
The Champions Classic is the newest name for these little season openers and it was certainly that and more. We got to see perhaps the top three picks in next summer’s NBA Draft. The ticket prices were reported to been upwards of $700 for good seats on a cold Tuesday Night. That should say a lot about the promise of these teams, their young players and the passion for basketball in the Chi-town.
The first game slated was possibly scheduled as the teaser, but you wouldn’t have known it based on the AP Top-25. Michigan State came into the contest the Number 2 team in America while their opponent Kentucky was tops. The Spartans are lead by Keith Appling while Kentucky’s said to have one of the best freshman classes of all time with superstar-in-the-making Julius Randle at the top of the list. Last night’s game lived up to hype for both singular stardom as well as overall balance and team chemistry. Spartans senior guard Appling led MSU with 22 PTS, 8 REB, 8 AST, and 4 STLs while on the other side Randle blew up the stat sheet with a double-double in both points and rebounds by posting 27 and 13 in those categories respectively. Young Julius might’ve shown his flash of greatness, but he also showed his immaturity and problematic basketball acumen by counting for 8 of UK’s 17 turnovers, which is always the mark of a young over-aggressive team. The game was close up until the final seconds when MSU”s Brandon Dawson tipped home a basket to give the Spartans a two-possession lead making the eventual final score 78-74.
The nightcap it was a showdown between the top two players in North America as Toronto’s Andrew Wiggins (aka Maple Jordan) of Kansas went up against Chicago’s Jabari Parker (formerly Simeon HS) of Duke. Duke came into the contest as the 4th-ranked team in the US, while Kansas was 5th. In the first half it was all Parker as he was dominating the head-to-head matchup with points and by frustrating young Wiggins in the process. Parker’s first half saw him dominate with 19 PTS while bringing his team into the locker room with a two-point lead. Wiggins on the other had his problems with Parker and the Duke team in general as he scored only 4 points while also picking up a few early fouls that kept him on the bench for some of the first half, which resulting in a playing-time total of 25 of the 40 minutes.
In this game of marquee players it was a tale of two halves as Wiggins figured things out after coming out of the locker room while Parker seemed to regress as the game became more competitive. This isn’t a knock on Parker as he was able to keep his team very competitive in the first half while also holding down defensive responsibilities against the future Number One. The second half belonged to Wiggins as he scored 18 of his 22 while reversing the trend for Parker who scored 8 to finish the night with 27PTS. In addition, Parker fell just one rebound shy of a double-double. While Parker may have had the stats on Wiggins, the night definitely belonged to “Maple Jordan” as he finished the small upset win for his team with a fast break two-handed slam that resulted in an “And 1” committed by Parker. This put the game away and added a little exclamation to the early resumé for who’ll go tops next summer. The final score for the late game turned out to be a comfortable win for KU 93-84. Wiggins finished the night with 22PTS on eight less minutes on the floor than Parker.