NEW YORK – There is perhaps no better place to tip off a new college basketball season than at the world’s most famous arena. Putting four of the most storied programs in history on full display only fuels the excitement as the nation continues reopening after nearly two years of uncertainty.
And college basketball, with all its color, pageantry and excitement, might be the perfect tonic in a return to normal.
Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State, which have combined for 18 national championships over the years, will take to the hardwood in the State Farm Champions Classic Nov. 9 at Madison Square Garden.
The Blue Devils and Wildcats are set to match up in the first game of the day followed by the Jayhawks and Spartans in the nightcap.
Location: Durham, N.C.
Founded: 1838 (as Trinity College)
Nickname: Blue Devils
School Colors: Duke Blue & White
Arena (cap): Cameron Indoor Stadium (9,314)
Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski (41st year)
Record at Duke: 1,097-302
Prior to Duke: Army (1975-80)
Career Record: 1,170-361 (
2020-21 ACC Record/Finish: 9-9/10th
ACC Tournament Finish: defeated Louisville 70-56 in second round (Duke withdrew from tournament following the win over the Cardinals)
NCAA Tournament Finish: DNC
2020-21 Overall Record: 13-11
ACC Regular Season Championships: 19 (1954-58-63-64-65-66-79-86-91-92-94-97-98-99-00-01-04-06-10)
ACC Tournament Championships: 21 (1960-63-64-66-78-80-86-88-92-99-00-01-02-03-05-06-09-10-11-17-19)
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 43 (1955-60-63-64-66-78-79-80-84-85-86-87-88-89-90-91-92-93-94-96-97-98-99-00-01-02-03-04-05-06-07-08-09-10-11-12-13-14-15-16-17-18-19)
Final Four Appearances: 16 (1963-64-66-78-86-88-89-90-91-93-94-99-01-04-10-15)
NCAA National Championships: 5 (1991-92-01-10-15)
Location: Lexington, Kent.
School Colors: Blue & White
Home Arena (cap): 20,500
Head Coach: John Calipari (13th year)
Record at Kentucky: 339-93 (.785)
Prior to Kentucky: Massachusetts (1988-96), Memphis (2000-09). New Jersey – NBA (1996-99).
Career College Record: 784-233 (.771)
2020-21 SEC Record/Finish: 8-9/8th
2021 SEC Tournament Finish: lost to Mississippi State 74-73
2021 NCAA Tournament Finish: DNQ
2020-21 Overall Record: 9-16
SEC Regular Season Championships: 49 (1933-35-37-39-40-42-44-45-46-47-48-49-51-52-54-55-57-58-62-64-66-68-69-70-71-72-73-75-77-78-80-82-83-84-86-95-96-98-00-01-03-05-10-12-15-16-17-20)
SEC Tournament Championships: 31 (1933-37-39-40-42-44-45-46-47-48-49-50-52-84-86-92-93-94-95-97-98-99-01-03-04-10-11-15-16-17-18)
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 59 (1942-45-48-49-51-52-55-56-57-58-59-61-62-64-66-68-69-70-71-72-73-74-75-77-78-80-81-82-83-84-85-86-87-88-92-93-94-95-96-97-98-99-00-01-02-03-04-05-06-07-08-10-11-12-14-15-16-17-18-19) NOTE – 1988 appearance later vacated by the NCAA
Final Four Appearances: 17 (1942-48-49-51-58-66-75-78-84-93-96-97-98-11-12-14-15)
NCAA National Championships: 8 (1948-49-51-58-78-96-98-12)
Athletics Website: www.UKathletics.com
Duke vs. Kentucky
Winners of a combined 68 conference championships and 102 appearances in the NCAA Tournament, Duke and Kentucky are meeting for just the 23rd time in the storied history of the two programs. The Wildcats hold a narrow 12-10 advantage in the series that dates back to a 37-32 Duke win on March 3, 1930. The Blue Devils also won the last meeting between the two teams with a 118-84 win over the Wildcats on Nov. 6, 2018.
But, while Kentucky may hold the edge in the series, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski holds an even more impressive mark. Entering his 41st year at Duke, the legendary coach has amassed a 1,097-302 record during his time along Tobacco Road. The winningest coach in college basketball history, Krzyzewski has taken the Blue Devils to 35 of the school’s 43 appearances in the national tournament and has won 97 games in his career at the tournament. That makes him the winningest coach in NCAA Tournament history as well – and by a wide margin. No. 2 on the wins list is Roy Williams, who retired following the 2020-21 season and winning 79 games while coaching at Kansas and North Carolina.
Krzyzewski has led the Blue Devils to 12 Final Four appearances and five national championships during his illustrious career. His 12 Final Four appearances is tied with former UCLA legend John Wooden for the most appearances in a career.
Krzyzewski has already announced the 2021-22 season will be his final season as coach and this year’s State Farm Champions Classic is certainly the first step on a season that will see him honored each time his team takes the court this season.
Duke had an uncharacteristic season in 2020-21 as the Blue Devils finished 9-9 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. They defeated Louisville 70-56 in the opening round of the conference tournament, but withdrew from the tournament because of medical issues surrounding the team and was left out of the NCAA Tournament. Duke ended the season with a 13-11 overall record.
The Blue Devils lost their top three scorers from last season as Matthew Hurt, who averaged a team-best 18.3 points per game, along with DJ Steward (13.0 ppg) and Jalen Johnson (11.2 ppg) have all departed.
Duke does return three players with starting experience as the new season prepares to get underway. Wendall Moore (6-5, 213, F, Jr.) leads that trio which also includes Jeremy Roach (6-1, 172, G., So.) and Mark Williams (7-0, 242, C, So.).
Moore, who had 18 starts last season, appeared in all 24 games for the Blue Devils. He connected on 42 percent of his field goal attempts (86-206), including 22 of 73 (.301) from behind the arc, and added 39 of 46 attempts from the foul line to finish the season with 233 points (9.7 ppg). He averaged 10.9 points per game in league action. He also added 5.2 rebounds per game a year ago.
Roach, meanwhile, started 18 games of his own and ended the year at an 8.7 points per game scoring clip. He shot 46 percent (78-171) from the floor, including 26-83 from three-point range, and was 27 of 40 (.675) from the foul line in 24 games. Williams appeared in 23 games (15 starts) for the Blue Devils and ended the season with 7.1 points per game on 66 percent (71-107) shooting from the floor and 22 of 41 (.537) from the free throw line.
It appears to be a reloading season at Kentucky as John Calipari enters his 13th year as coach in Lexington.
He previously coached at Massachusetts and Memphis and spent a brief stint as coach of the NBA’s New Jersey Nets where he compiled a 72-112 record before being fired after his 1998-99 team began the season 3-17.
Davion Mintz (6-3, Grad., G) is the top returning player, and the only player with any measurable starting experience, returning for Calipari and the Cats. He appeared in 25 games (21 starts) last season as Kentucky finished with a 9-16 overall record after posting an 8-9 record in league play and placing eighth in the SEC standings.
He averaged 11.5 points per game after connecting on 96 of 242 (.397) shots from the floor, including 56 of 148 from beyond the arc, and adding 40 of 61 (.656) shots from the foul line. He also averaged 3.1 assists per game and is the top returning player for the Wildcats in that department.
Keion Brooks (6-7, Jr., F) started just three game last season and averaged 10.3 points and 6.8 rebounds in the 22 games he appeared in. No other returning player averaged more than 5.4 points per game last season for Kentucky.
Despite the lack of returning experience things took a turn for the better with the addition of a trio of standouts who should see significant playing time in the new season for the Wildcats.
CJ Fredrick (6-3, RS-Jr., G) transferred to Kentucky after playing at Iowa and averaging 7.9 points and 1.9 assists for the Hawkeyes last season. The other two transfers are Kellan Grady (6-5, Grad., G) and Sahvir Wheeler (5-9, Jr., G) and figure to provide the Wildcats with a deep backcourt.
Grady averaged 17.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game at Davidson last year while Wheeler, who transferred from SEC rival Georgia, tallied 14.0 and 7.4 assists per game last season for the Bulldogs.
Location: Lawrence, Kansas
School Colors: Crimson & Blue
Home Arena (cap): Allen Field House (16,300)
Head Coach: Bill Self (19th year)
Record at Kansas: 522-118 (.815)
Prior to Kansas: Illinois head coach (2000-03), Tulsa head coach (1998-00), Oral Roberts head coach (1993-98), Oklahoma State assistant (1986-93) and Kansas graduate assistant (1985-86)
Career Record: 729-223 (.766)
2020-21 Big 12 Record/Finish: 12-6/2nd
Big 12 Tournament Finish: defeated Oklahoma 69-62 before remainder of tournament was cancelled
NCAA Tournament Finish: lost to Southern Cal 83-51 in second round
2020-21 Overall Finish: 21-9
Big 12 Regular Season Championships: 19 (1997-98-02-03-05-06-07-08-09-10-11-12-13-14-15-16-17-18-20)
Big 12 Tournament Championships: 9 (1999-06-07-08-10-11-13-16-18)
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 49 (1940-42-52-53-47-60-66-67-71-74-75-78-81-84-85-86-87-88-90-91-92-93-94-95-96-97-98-99-00-01-02-03-04-05-06-07-08-09-10-11-12-13-14-15-16-17-18-19-21)
Final Four Appearances: 15 (1940-52-53-57-71-74-86-88-91-93-02-03-08-12-18)
NCAA National Championships: 3 (1952-88-08)
Athletics Website: www.KUathletics.com
Location: East Lansing, Mich
School Colors: Green & White
Home Arena (cap): Breslin Center (14,797)
Head Coach: Tom Izzo (26th year)
Record at Michigan State: 628-241
Prior to Michigan State: Northern Michigan assistant (1979-83), Michigan State assistant (1983-1995)
Career Record: 643-254 (.717)
2020-21 Big Ten Record/Finish: 9-11/T-8th
2021 Big Ten Tournament Finish: lost to Maryland 68-57
2021 NCAA Tournament Finish: lost to UCLA 86-80
2020-21 Overall Record: 15-13
First Season of Basketball: 1898-99
Big Ten Regular Season Championships: 16 (1957-59-67-78-79-90-98-99-00-01-09-10-12-18-19-20)
Big Ten Tournament Championships: 6 (1999-00-12-14-16-19)
NCAA Tournament Appearances: 33 (1957-69-78-79-85-86-90-91-92-94-95-95-98-99-00-01-02-03-04-05-06-07-08-09-10-11-12-13-14-15-16-17-18-19)
Final Four Appearances: 10 (1957-79-99-00-01-05-09-10-15-19)
NCAA Championships: 2 (1979-00)
Kansas vs. Michigan State
Kansas and Michigan State may lack the glowing numbers than the other two entrants in this year’s Champions Classic, but make no mistake. The Jayhawks and Spartans are among the most storied programs in NCAA history.
Kansas has made 49 appearances in the NCAA Tournament and have captured three titles along the way. Michigan State, thanks to the performance of a charismatic freshman from nearby Lansing, Mich., won its first national championship more than four decades ago on a historic night in Salt Lake City, Utah by outdueling another legendary collegiate player before both went on to hall of fame careers in the National Basketball Association. The Spartans have won just one national title since then.
The series between the Jayhawks and Spartans is split evenly with each team winning seven times since first meeting early in the 1960-61 season with Kansas taking a 93-69 victory in iconic Allen Field House on the KU campus in Lawrence. Kansas also claimed a 92-87 win in the last meeting which came in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis to tipoff the 2018-19 season.
The most recent Michigan State win in the series came on Nov. 17, 2015 when the Spartans prevailed 79-73 at the Champions Classic in Chicago.
Kansas is the most experienced of the four teams at this year’s Champions Classic as the four players who are projected to start the game against Michigan State combined for 114 starting assignments a year ago as Kansas went 21-9 on the year.
Ochai Aybaji (6-5, 215, Sr., G) and Christian Braun (6-6-, 210, Jr. G) both started all 30 games a year ago as the Jayhawks went 21-9 on the season. David McCormack (6-10, 250, Sr. F) and Jalen Wilson (6-8, 220, RS-So., F) started 28 and 26 games, respectively, for Kansas with finished second in the Big 12 with a 12-6 record and ended the year with an overall mark of 21-9 following an 83-51 setback to Southern Cal.
Aybaji averaged 14.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game while also contributing 1.9 assists per contest. He connected on 147 of 350 (.420) field goal attempts, including 78 of 207 (.377) from behind the arc, and was 69 percent (51-74) from the foul line for the Jayhawks. He grabbed 110 (29 offensive) rebounds on the season.
Braun, meanwhile, posted averages of 9.7 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per outing in 2020-21. He shot 38 percent (92-242) from the floor and was 52 of 153 (.340) from 3-point range while adding 55-70 (.786) from the free throw line to account for his scoring production. He had 35 offensive rebounds as part of his 155 total caroms on the season.
McCormack finished the season with 389 points (13.4 ppg) after connecting on 153 of 297 (.515) of his field goal attempts 1-1 from 3-point range) and was 82 of 103 (.796) from the foul line. He added 178 (79 offensive) rebounds on the season.
Wilson, meanwhile, will miss the game against the Spartans after being suspended for four games following an arrest on Oct. 31 on suspicion of DUI in Lawrence. Kansas coach Bill Self, who is beginning his 19th season at the helm of the KU program, made the announcement on Nov. 3 and indicated Wilson would miss the team’s final exhibition game, which was played on Wednesday, before missing the game in New York City. He will also miss games against Tarleton State (Nov. 12) and Stony Brook (Nov. 18).
Wilson led all Big 12 freshmen last season with 7.9 rebounds per game after grabbing 230 (64 offensive) boards. He also ended the year with an average of 11.8 points per game after connecting on 113 of 273 (.414) shots from the field, including 40 of 120 (.333) from 3-point range. He added 63 percent (75-119) from the foul line.
Michigan State returns will likely try a number of starting lineups before setting on the right combinations that coach Tom Izzo believes will be best suited to help the Spartans improve on their 9-11 Big Ten record and 15-13 overall mark of a year ago.
The Spartans lost to Maryland in their first game of the Big Ten tournament and marking the first time MSU did not play a Friday game at the tournament in the history of the conference tournament. MSU received an at-large bid into the national tournament for the 23rd straight season before losing to UCLA 86-80 in the first round.
Joey Hauser (6-9, 230, RS-Sr., F) is the leading scorer and rebounder returning to the Spartans this season. He averaged 9.7 points per game last season on 94-of-198 (.475) shooting from the floor, including being successful on 34 of his 100 shots from 3-point range. He also added 49-of-68 (.721) from the foul line to account for his scoring production. He grabbed 157 (38 offensive) rebounds a year ago to tie for the team lead with 5.6 rebounds per contest.
Not much else returns in the way of scoring or rebounding as Izzo and the Spartans prepare to open the season against the Jayhawks. Gabe Brown (6-8, 215, Sr., F) is next on the ledger with an average of 7.2 points and 2.7 rebounds per game last season while Malik Hall (6-8, 225, Jr. F) ended the 2020-21 season with five points and 4.2 rebounds per game for the Spartans. Julius Marble (6-9, 245, Jr., F) added 4.0 points and 2.1 rebounds per game a year ago.
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.