Four of the top ten teams in college basketball will meet up in the State Farm Champions Classic in Indianapolis on Tuesday, providing some high-profile matchups for the first night of the NCAA season.
Top-ranked Kansas will start their campaign by taking on No. 10 Michigan State, after which No. 2 Kentucky faces No. 4 Duke in a battle of two championship favorites.
Teams Relish Early Season Tests
While opening the season against such lofty competition means the possibility of starting the year with a loss, coaches say the opportunity to get tested against a talented rival is worth the risk.
�Maybe because of where they�ve placed it, this has become a humongous event,� Kentucky coach John Calipari told reporters. �I don�t know if any of us coaches are looking at this shaking our heads like, �Why are we doing this to ourselves this early?��
The night begins with the Kansas Jayhawks facing off against the Michigan State Spartans. Both teams are regulars in the Champions Classic, with Michigan State getting the best of Kansas in a 2015 meeting between the two teams.
The Spartans lost both Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. to the NBA after last season, but they still have an experienced team that includes junior guard Cassius Winston, who was second on the team in scoring last year. As usual, the team also recruited well, though head coach Tom Izzo doesn�t expect to play his freshmen much early in the season.
�I�m not going to give them the experience unless it�s been earned,� Izzo told reporters. �Right now, I might use some of those guys, but it might be in an �if we need them� situation. Some of those guys might be so nervous they might kill the tuba player with the first shot.�
According to Bovada, Kansas comes into the game as a 5.5-point favorite over the Spartans.
Top Two Freshman Classes on Display
That contest will be followed by Duke vs. Kentucky, which is serving as the main event for the Champions Classic. Both teams are listed among the preseason favorites to win a national championship this season, and there will be plenty of potential NBA players facing off against each other in what is expected to be a very tight matchup.
Both teams have reloaded their rosters heading into the year, with Kentucky�s freshman class being ranked No. 2 in the country according to ESPN � behind only the No. 1 class that went to Duke.
�Unbelievable talent. Unbelievable team,� Calipari told reporters, speaking about Duke. �So it you win it�s huge. It�ll give you a cushion as you go forward. If you lose, you just put it in the rearview mirror, learn from it and go on to the next game.�
Kentucky has been made a slight favorite for Tuesday night�s contest, with the Wildcats giving 1.5 points to the Blue Devils.
All four of the teams participating in the Champions Classic are listed among the top choices to win the NCAA basketball championship this year. At Paddy Power, Duke (11/2) is the favorite, with Kansas (17/2) and Kentucky (9/1) close behind, while Michigan State (25/1) is also considered a strong contender.