Kansas and Michigan State begin the season with their matchup at the Champions Classic; who gets going with a big early-season win?
TV schedule: Tuesday, November 9, 7:00 pm ET. ESPN
Arena: Madison Square Garden in New York, New York
One of the most exciting features of the college basketball season returns to kick start the season, seeing four Blue Blood programs dueling in New York City. Kansas enters the season with high expectations once again, with plenty of talent returning to Lawrence. After watching conference foe Baylor win last year’s national title, the energy for the Jayhawks should be off the charts to steal Baylor’s throne.
The Jayhawks not only returned plenty of talent from last season, returning basically everyone by Marcus Garrett but also add a few key pieces. They’ll get another year out of Ochai Agbaji (14.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg last year) and forwards Jalen Wilson and David McCormack, who both averaged double-digit points as well. Throw into the mix transfer guards Remy Martin (a scoring machine at Arizona State) and Joseph Yesufu (who was phenomenal at Drake) and this Kansas lineup is loaded up and down.
Kansas enters the season ranked 3rd in the AP Top 25 and also sit at 3rd in the initial KenPom rankings. Last year’s offense was one of the worst in Self’s tenure with the Jayhawks, but these new pieces represent an expected step forward for the program. This Kansas squad is deep and talented and it’ll be interesting to see how it all comes together, especially early in the season against a quality opponent.
Last season was not remarkable for Michigan State, finishing at just 15-13 and falling in the First Four. The Spartans struggled on both sides of the ball, especially compared to what we normally expect from this basketball program. There have been some changes on the roster and there’s reason for expectation, but they face a pretty huge first test to begin the new season.
Senior forwards Joey Hauser (9.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg last year) and Gabe Brown (7.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg) are back while the Spartans work in former Northeastern point guard Tyson Walker, who was one of the best guards in the CAA, averaging nearly 19 points per game last year. Another step forward for the offense is the addition of freshman Max Christie, a talented shooter who will certainly elevate the Spartan’s outside game.
Michigan State begins the season unranked but does begin the campaign at 22nd in the initial KenPom rankings. There’s a ton of potential on this roster, and the expectation that both the offense and defense will take a step forward this season, even after losing important players like Aaron Henry and Rocket Watts. They’ll certainly need Christie and the other newcomers to help fortify a lackluster offense that is expected to improve.
These teams both made the NCAA Tournament last season, but neither really lived up to their expectations, either from a national perspective or from their own. Both programs had down years on offense, but it certainly looks like they’ve each attempted to rectify those issues. Kansas has a roster full of talent and the Spartans are going to need to lock down defensively or risk falling out of the game if the Jayhawks go on a scoring spurt.
On the other side, Michigan State needs to figure out who they depend on offensively and if studs like Walker and Christie can score in the Big Ten as they did in the CAA and high school respectively.
On paper, it sure looks like Kansas will be the favorite to get off to an attractive 1-0 start with a nice win over a Big Ten team, but it’s too early to crown anyone. Tom Izzo’s squads always play tough defense and anything could happen in the season debut. On a night that doesn’t exactly hand us a slew of marquee matchups, it’ll be exciting to see these two revamped offenses going head to head, though the edge is certainly to Kansas early in the season.