Busting Brackets

Kentucky vs Kansas: 2023-24 college basketball game preview, TV schedule

Kansas guard Kevin McCullar, Jr. Syndication: The Courier-Journal
Kansas guard Kevin McCullar, Jr. Syndication: The Courier-Journal /

One of the most anticipated early-season matchups will see no. 1 Kansas and no. 16 Kentucky face off in the State Farm Champions Classic in a matchup between two blue bloods of the sport.

TV Schedule: Tuesday, November 14, 9:30 pm ET. ESPN

Arena: United Center in Chicago, Illinois

Kansas and Kentucky headline the Champions Classic in a battle of two blue bloods looking to make a statement early in the season. Kansas looks to stay atop the Big 12, which will have increased competition from new members including Houston. As for Kentucky, their new-look roster looks to once again compete for an SEC championship – and a deep tournament run.

The State Farm Champions Classic features some of the most exciting early-season matchups on an annual basis, with Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, and Duke all playing in the series of games, with the matchups changing depending on the year.

In last year’s Champions Classic, which was played in Indianapolis, Kansas defeated Duke 69-64, giving them their third straight victory in the tournament. On the flip side, Kentucky fell to Michigan State 86-77 in a thrilling 2OT game and handed them their third straight loss in the event.

Although 2020 was the last time that Kansas and Kentucky played one another in this particular tournament, they have played one another two other times since then, with most recent one being in January of this year. That matchup saw no. 9 Kansas defeat Kentucky 77-68 in Lexington as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

However, both of these teams have undergone major roster changes in the offseason, which includes the addition (and subtraction) of many high profile players on both teams. Kentucky has  seen more changes of the two teams, and is looking to fill the (big) shoes left by 2022 National Player of the year in Oscar Tshiebwe. In addition to Tshiebwe, several other key players including Sahvir Wheeler, Cason Wallace, and Jacob Toppin, all left Kentucky after declaring for the 2023 NBA draft.

But in their place comes a highly touted recruiting class, which includes highly touted five-star recruits in Justin Edwards, Rob Dillingham, and DJ Wagner – all of whom look poised to be in the starting lineup. Alongside these young freshmen, the Wildcats have have added a key veteran transfer in Tre Mitchell, who will enter his fifth and final year of eligibility. Fellow graduate student Antonio Reeves will also bring key veteran experience alongside Mitchell to the Kentucky starting lineup, which will likely be vital due to this team being so young.

On the other side of the spectrum, Kansas has also underwent some significant offseason roster changes that saw the addition of several key recruits and transfers. The Jayhawks saw two of their top players in Gradey Dick and Jalen Wilson both declare for the NBA draft, along with several other non-starters transferring to other programs.

However, the Jayhawks were able to replace that lost production in the big way through the transfer portal, as the team added former Michigan big man Hunter Dickinson, who was widely viewed as the top player in the transfer portal this offseason. Additionally, Kansas brought in several solid recruits, including Elmarko Jackson, who has started in both of the team’s first two games.

Starting alongside Dickinson and Jackson are three returning players including two juniors in KJ Adams Jr, DaJuan Harris Jr, and a senior in Kevin McCullar Jr. All of these additions alongside the returning production were enough to push Kansas over the top and earn the preseason no. 1 in the AP poll.

Both Kansas and Kentucky will enter Tuesday’s tilt with a 2-0 record, with each team having won both of their games by 20 or more points. The Jayhawks have won their first two games by a combined margin of 81 points, and have scored 99 points in each of those games. Meanwhile the Wildcats have won their two games by a combined 60 points, including a 40-point win over New Mexico State to open the season.

Though both teams have looked solid through their first two games, Kansas looks to have a slight edge over Kentucky across the board. The Jayhawks have looked and played like a preseason no. 1 team through their first two games, with several of the key offseason additions having made a significant impact in both of the team’s games this year. But Kentucky is still an extremely tough matchup for Kansas, and Kentucky has more than enough talent to topple the Jayhawks.

The biggest key for Kentucky will be containing Hunter Dickinson, who can score from from almost anywhere on the floor. Dickinson has shot over 50% from the field in all three of his years at Michigan, while averaging over 18 ppg in his last two seasons. Through his first two games with Kansas, those stats have taken a further step up, as Dickinson has averaged 19.5 ppg while shooting 65% from the field in his first two games with the team. If Kentucky fails to contain Dickinson, it will be extremely tough for them to emerge victorious.

Along with containing Dickinson, Kentucky will need to see a collective improvement in three-point shooting. In the first two games of the season, the Wildcats have only shot a combined 32.7% from beyond the arc. If the Wildcats fail to improve on their three-point shooting against Kansas, a win will be difficult to come by. Should the Wildcats be able to shoot around 40% from beyond the arc, it could prove to be a difference maker in what will likely be a close game.

For Kansas, being able to replicate their offensive production that was seen in their first two games will be extremely important, and will be a difference maker in Tuesday’s matchup. Kansas has shot 62% from the field as a team through the first two games, including a 46.9% mark from beyond the arc. Should the Jayhawks be able to do so, they will be an extremely tough team to beat, regardless of the opponent.

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Matchups between Kansas and Kentucky are always must-watch games, and Tuesday’s matchup is no exception. Each year, the Champions Classic presents all four teams with an opportunity for a statement win, and for these two teams, a win Tuesday would be right at the top of their resume come Selection Sunday in a few months.

Prediction: Kansas 81, Kentucky 74