The best night of college basketball we’re going to see all season is on a Tuesday in November. For NBA Draft nuts like me, the Champions Classic this year is just about basketball porn.
Kentucky. Michigan State. Duke. Kansas.
It just doesn’t get any better than this. We have 15 of the top 35 draft prospects, according to ESPN’s Chad Ford, and four of the top-5 ranked teams.
I’m so excited about tonight that I’m going to keep a running diary of the games, which you can track throughout the night, with Jackson Martin of the Dirty South Sports Report:
Ben, 6:35 PM CT: I’m a little bit surprised Aaron Harrison is getting the start over Alex Poythress. Hey, if you’re upset about your lack of playing time, Alex, I know a school from your home state of Tennessee that would love to have you!
Ben, 6:46: Our first all-freshman lineup for Kentucky as Cauley-Stein is pulled for Dakari Johnson! It also just hit me that every single player on this court is younger (and way more talented) than me.
Jackson, 6:54: Michigan State looks like me playing NBA 2k14 where on defense I just keep hitting the X button. Sure, you get a ton of steals in a short period of time, but this is going to backfire eventually.
Jackson, 7:02: I don’t really buy into the thinking that you need experience to win the national championship, but early season games with an all-freshman team can get ugly. We’re seeing that on both ends with Kentucky right now.
Ben, 7:04: I’m just amazed how big Kentucky is. With the Harrison twins starting, every player is between 6-foot-6 and 7-foot. Forget offense, when this team matures by the end of the year, it’s going to be a defensive monster.
Ben, 7:07: I feel like every time I look up from my laptop, Michigan State’s on a fast break. Julius Randle’s been making some weird passes around the perimeter, so I wonder if Kentucky should just slow down the ball and let him bang in the paint.
Jackson, 7:14: Kentucky is forcing the dribble-drive offense right now and Michigan State is just bodying them up. The Wildcats look like the Harlem Globetrotters with all the rotating handoffs they’ve had at quarter-court.
Ben, 7:18: Kentucky’s already down nine points with six minutes left in the half, but they’re also in the bonus. They need to cut down their high volume of long shots and take advantage of their size and MSU’s foul situation. Their height (and talent) is going to help them rack up a lot of fouls this year.
Jackson, 7:22: Here’s why Julius Randle is my No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft: When I watch him play, he can either take the ball up the court or post up a PF on the block and not look out of place. He’s one of those rare guys who has the abilities to play 4 or 5 positions on the court.
Ben, 7:24: Sure he’s a senior, but Adreian Payne has a spot at the next level as a late first-round pick if he can consistently knock down a three. He’s got great hops, good defensive instincts, surprisingly good shooting, and most importantly, a great name.
Ben, 7:29: I’m starting to really like Gary Harris. I’m thinking he’s either a worse Bradley Beal or a better Willie Green. Probably somewhere in between.
Jackson, 7:30: Kentucky’s dribble-drive offense is creating wide-open outside shots. Young has started knocking them down, and if the Wildcats can hit those threes with any consistency this is going to be a game again real quick.
Ben, 7:37: The big difference I’m seeing so far between this Kentucky team and the championship team two years ago is defense. There’s no Anthony Davis or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist right now (although some of the young guys could develop into similar players), but for now UK needs to get back on defense quicker. MSU is just running over them.
Ben, 7:52: Side note: I love Kanye, I love Yeezus, and I’m so happy Black Skinhead is taking over commercials and basketball arena soundtracks.
Ben, 7:55: I’m not nearly as high on Randle as Jackson is (and by that I mean I wouldn’t take him 1-1 right now), but MAN is he fun to watch. 6 straight points to open the second half capped off by a coast-to-coast drive. He’s got some serious power moves you rarely see from young guys.
Jackson, 8:13: This is what I mean. There’s going to be some time this second half where Kentucky dominates play for stretches of time. And watching those stretches shows you the true potential of this young team. They probably won’t win this game, but by the end of the year Kentucky will likely be the best team in the country.
Jackson, 8:14: Coast-to-coast for Michigan State with no dribbles. Man, that’s beautiful basketball.
Ben, 8:16: Places Kentucky needs to improve: free throw shooting (6-16), turnovers (16), assists (4 in 18 field goals), and making freshman mistakes.
Jackson, 8:19: Ben, did you just copy and paste that list from the last four years? These are the things Kentucky struggles with for half a season every year. I’ve got a feeling this is going to turn out okay for the Wildcats.
Ben, 8:21: You’re not going to beat Michigan State with iso or post-up plays. Kentucky needs a lot more ball movement and more rotations, which may not happen until the offense is more cohesive later in the year.
Jackson, 8:23: Julius Randle is a man playing college basketball. The turnovers are a problem, but it’s his first real game. Everything else he’s doing makes you see why he’s so highly touted. He will make some NBA fanbase really, really happy.
Jackson, 8:29: It’s now a three-point game with another strong finish from Randle. I will be amazed and terrified for everyone else if Kentucky can pull this game out.
Ben, 8:30: Kentucky is going to win this game. Look out.
Ben, 8:33: If Randle weren’t on this AAU Kentucky team, he’d put up numbers like another guy who wore #30, Michael Beasley. Don’t laugh, Beasley put up a 26.2-12.4-1.2-1.3-1.6 line on .543/.479/.774 shooting at K-State. R.I.P. good Michael Beasley.
Jackson, 8:47: I hate player comparisons as much as you do, Ben, but does Randle remind you of any NBA players? I’m trying to place it, but can’t quite come up with who.
Ben, 8:49: Well he just hit four straight clutch free throws towards the end of the game, so clearly not Dwight Howard!!! But in all seriousness, maybe he’s a much higher ceiling, thicker version of Chris Bosh, who, by the way, is actually a really good player. Maybe I’m thinking that because this is “The Best Draft Class Since ’03” and Bosh was the first big man off the board, but still.
Jackson, 8:57: Randle just scored over a triple-team. I have a new man crush. He is ridiculous.
Ben, 8:57: I’m going to wait until after Wiggins and Jabari go head-to-head before I decide on a man crush. And I love Dante Exum too. Dear Lord, I already love this draft class. Please tank, Horncats!
Ben, 9:02: Yes, Michigan State won and was the better team tonight. But man is Kentucky going to be scary (and so fun to watch) by the end of the year.
Ben, 9:05: The biggest problem I’m going to have all year with Kentucky is remembering which Harrison twin is which. Thank God for their different haircuts and uniform numbers.
Ben, 9:12: Wait the United Center is playing The Way I Are by Timbaland. I’m a fan.
Ben, 9:18: Congrats to Vanderbilt, earning their first win of the season in a 86-80 takedown of former Kentucky Wildcat Ryan Harrow’s Georgia State Panthers. Imagine if UK still had Harrow, too…
Ben, 9:25: I don’t like Tyler Thornton starting over Andre Dawkins and Rasheed Sulaiman for Duke. I’d like at least one ball-handler off the bench.
Ben, 9:33: Early prediction: Jabari Parker has a better college season than Andrew Wiggins. He’s a lot more polished, but when I saw Wiggins in high school, it was easy to see how talented he was. Wiggins will probably have a better pro career, but you can see the rough edges.
Ben, 9:38: “That’s (Wiggins’) first collegiate basket, and I can assure you it won’t be his last.” Thank you, Dickie V. Bring me back Jay Bilas.
Ben, 9:40: I was really wondering how you pronounce Joel Embiid’s name, and it turns out it’s what I expected: em-BEED. There are about fourteen other pronunciations you couldn’ve told me and I would’ve believe any of them.
Ben, 9:43: Ever since Wiggins reclassified into the Class of 2013, Jabari Parker has been thrown a lot of shade. But dude can play. Just in the last five minutes, he hit a pair of threes (one was an and-one), blocked a shot, and stole a pass.
Ben, 9:48: Good to see Wiggins come inside to grab an offensive rebound and put it back in. At Huntington, he would often drift along the perimeter waiting for the ball, since his team had really good guards and big men. He has even more talented teammates at KU, so he’ll really want to show his assertiveness here.
Ben, 9:54: Quinn Cook was Duke’s most improved player last year, and Amile Jefferson may be that guy this year. He’s beefed up a bit–enough that he’s playing a de facto center for Duke–and looks a lot more comfortable in the lane. He was pushed around a lot last year.
Ben, 10:04: Wiggins has been quiet (and on the bench) for most of the game. Still, Randle and Parker look just as good as advertised–if not better. As Meat Loaf will tell you, two out of three ain’t bad.
Ben, 10:13: 19 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 assist, and 1 block later for Jabari Parker in the first half, it seems like a good time to bring up this video.
Ben, 10:31: Look, I might be a naïve Duke fan, but Jabari Parker seems like a hard guy to dislike. He’s not crazy, he smiles all the time, and he’s Mormon. Who hates Mormons!
Ben, 10:37: I’ve seen Wiggins play in about two and a half games, and I’m not sure if I’ve seen him hit a single three-pointer. I can’t even recall him hitting a jumper, although I’m sure he has. That’s an issue if he’s going to be a shooting guard, but until he figures out his shot, he just needs to drive more, which he can do very well.
Ben, 10:56: Jabari Parker has had a lot of success jumping interior passes, leading to his three steals. This time, Wayne Selden caught him and snuck past Parker to Embiid for an easy deuce. Selden has been one of the most impressive Jayhawks, especially with his excellent passing.
Ben, 10:58: My television’s ESPN feed is having broadcast issues, and every play is shown at 90% speed before the screen glitches every five seconds. Wiggins went up for a fast break dunk and hovered for what seemed like forever, and I’m not quite sure if it was the faulty signal or his freakish athleticism.
Ben, 11:06: For some bizarre reason, Coach K played 6-foot-2 Tyler Thornton on 6-foot-8 Andrew Wiggins for two possessions. Wiggins posted him up the both times, scoring first and drawing a foul the second time. Thornton is a very good defender, but there’s only so much you can do against an athletic freak a half foot taller than you.
Ben, 11:11: Embiid just missed a free throw by hitting the backboard first. Yeah, that’s what only been playing basketball for three years looks like.
Ben, 11:17: Parker’s floater in the lane was about the twelth time tonight I’ve just yelled something not fit for print OH GOD HE JUST HIT A THREE.
Ben, 11:27: Rick Bonnell, a fantastic Bobcats beat writer for the Charlotte Observer I worked with this summer, just made a great point on Twitter I’ve always said. People are clamoring for players to stay in college basketball 2 years. Sure, that’s fine, but only if Randle, Wiggins, and Parker can go pro out of high school. These guys don’t belong in college, and the NBA has no reason to keep them in college for two years (or any time at all).
Ben, 11:32: Rodney Hood turns it over, Wiggins gets a fastbreak dunk, and Parker fouls out with Kansas up 6 and just over a minute left. That’ll just about do it for the game, but there’s no doubt both teams are great and both stars are just unbelievable.
Ben, 11:37: This is why I love college basketball. I love watching elite future NBA players, and I love a lot of scoring. Ain’t nobody got time for that 37-36 Georgetown-Tennessee nonsense.
Ben, 11:44: What a night of really good performances. We’ll look back on this night in about five years and be amazed by how many great players were on one court over five hours.