Kansas Basketball and Duke will square off in the Champions Classic. Here’s what the Jayhawks must do in order to secure an early marquee win.
The college basketball season gets off to a rollicking start on Tuesday, headlined by the Champions Classic matchups at Madison Square Garden. The country’s top four teams will all be in action, with Kansas Basketball and Duke playing in the opening game. Michigan State and Kentucky square off in the second half of this blockbuster double-header.
This annual clash of college basketball’s titans is always must-watch television. Last season, Duke came out and made a remarkable statement in their 34-point drubbing of Kentucky, a loud and clear announcement of the arrival of Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. But both of those players, along with fellow one-and-done Cam Reddish, have departed from Durham. But rest assured that Mike Krzyzewski rarely leaves the cupboards bare. This year’s recruiting class ranked third in the nation behind Memphis’ and Kentucky’s will undoubtedly keep Duke in the national title conversation for the foreseeable future.
But while Duke got most of the headlines from last season’s Champions Classic, Kansas went out and made a big statement of their own. Their 92-87 win over eventual Final Four participants Michigan State was the beginning of a promising year for the Jayhawks. Dedric Lawson announced his presence in Lawrence with a 20-point, 14-rebound, six-assist debut. Quentin Grimes had arguably his best game as a Jayhawk, hitting six three-pointers and finishing with 21 points. Udoka Azubuike was a scoring force down low, notching 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting at the rim.
Who could have known at that point that the wheels would come off for the Jayhawks?
Relative to the success that they have had under Bill Self, Kansas’ eventual four-seed was disappointing. But the real gut-punch was the ending of “The Streak,” a 14-year stretch in which KU won at least a share of the Big XII regular-season title.
The team was plagued with injuries, absences, and unrealized potential. Azubuike went down early and missed three-quarters of the season. LaGerald Vick separated from the team in early February and never returned. Quentin Grimes, a five-star recruit, was never quite as good as he was in that first game against Michigan State.
But there were some bright spots.
Devon Dotson broke out as one of the best young point guards in the nation. Ochai Agbaji was fantastic as he shed his redshirt status and joined the fray midseason. Both of those players, along with Azubuike, are back for 2019-20. Azubuike and Dotson have garnered serious preseason consideration for national awards. Also returning is Silvio de Sousa, whose off-court battle with the NCAA was a recurring headline throughout the past season.
Speaking of off-the-court distractions, Kansas has certainly had plenty. The NCAA announced that they were planning to levy a notice of allegations against the programs, which was followed by some very interesting—and entertaining—public relations decisions by the Jayhawks, such as posting a video of Bill Self decked out in Adidas gear and gold chains, as well as the awkward (and frankly, hilarious) Snoop Dogg performance at Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
But thankfully, there is finally real basketball to be played. So, for all the interesting storylines surrounding this Jayhawks team, it’s time to start focusing on how they will fare on the court. And that starts with Game 1 versus the Blue Devils. Here are the three keys for Kansas to snag an early, important win in the Champions Classic.