Last night was a nice glimpse into what is going to be a fantastic basketball season. I haven’t been this excited about college hoops since Kevin Durant was a one and done for University of Texas.
The hype dissipated and the truth unveiled itself. Here is what I took away from last night’s Champions Classic:
Julius Randle is the real deal. Bro put up 27-13 and could have had more had Kentucky been able to pass the ball effectively. His footwork is absurdly good for a freshman and he will undoubtedly dominate the paint for the rest of the year.
Unfortunately he doesn’t have much help. I’m sure Andrew Harrison will be fine come post-season time, his brother Aaron on the other hand, I’m not exactly sold on (1-7 shooting, 0-5 from 3 and 2 TO’s). This squad reminds me of some of Calipari’s Memphis teams where they were heavy on length and bigs but short on outside shooting. With no shooters to spread out the floor, teams are just going to collapse on Randle and dare the rest of the team to shoot it.
That being said, I feel like that Michigan State win was an aberration. They are good. They probably should win the Big Ten (I haven’t seen what Indiana or Michigan will trot out this year). I’m not sure that if they played a best of 7 that kentucky wouldn’t win 4-1. The Spartans looked good. I like Keith Appling’s game and Gary Harris and Adrian Payne had great games as well. I just don’t think that kind of game can be replicated. Kentucky looked very lost at times last night and Michigan State had a lot of easy looks, but also took a lot of bad shots that happened to go in the hoop. Of course, like most Tom Izzo squads, they played excellent defense. This alone will keep them in any game against any team.
Andrew Wiggins had a very quiet night at 22 points. I had predicted to some friends that his new haircut meant he was all business. I figured if the beast were going to be released it would be tonight on the big stage. Early foul trouble never let him get into a rhythm and it took a 16 point surge in the 2nd half to get it to 22. This should scare most teams because he hasn’t even gotten loose yet. It’s coming. Just you wait.
One of the reasons Wiggins didn’t have to put the team on his back the whole game was because Perry Ellis has broad shoulders himself. 24 points on 9-13 shooting, 3 steals, 9 boards, and a couple of really awesome hustle plays where he went to the floor for loose balls. In the words of Stephen A. Smith, Ellis “flat out balled.” If Ellis keeps this kind of production up, you can pretty much kiss him goodbye (especially if this year ends with a National Championship).
This may have been mentioned before, but KU is deep. Wayne Selden stepped up and made big plays on both ends of the court. Frank Mason showed no fear whatsoever. If for some reason Tharpe gets hurt or messes up somehow off the court, Mason could end up stealing his job. Mason is super fast and was not afraid to push the tempo. There were times he beat defenders down the court when it seemed impossible to get a transition bucket. He either got to the cup, or got fouled. I was really impressed with how well he played.
Duke is a pretty good team. Rodney Hood showed me something last night and 3 other players got double figures in scoring (Amile Jefferson, Quinn Cook, and Rasheed Sulaimon). They only had 10 collective turnovers (KU only had 10 themselves) and they played really well. KU just imposed their will near the end. With all the bodies Bill Self could just throw out there, it seemed like they just wore the Blue Devils down (foul trouble played a small part in that as well–who wants to pay good money to see Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins ride the pine?).
Jabari Parker may have vaulted himself into the number 1 draft pick with his performance last night. Dude’s game is so ill. There were a couple of shots he made last night that made me make faces only reserved for “his airness” Michael Jordan and the second greatest shooting guard to ever play, Kobe Bryant. Jabari is legit. I’m not crazy about making comparisons, but if there were a player in the draft whose games is anything like Kevin Durant, it might be Parker. He can sky, he can shoot, and he can penetrate.
I was so juiced after last night that it took me at least an hour and half to calm down enough to fall asleep. I was excited about the season before I saw Kentucky and Duke play last night. Now I’m just plain hype. Not only will I watch every single minute of KU basketball this year, but I won’t miss too many televised events that involve Jabari Parker or Julius Randle.
Last night felt very close to Final Four Semi-finals match-ups (I know Louisville is ranked #3 but I still feel like it was a very fluky win. Louisville had a lot of help from the officials in both games. Until they beat someone they gets no respect from me). In no way is it clear just how good these teams are or will be come post-season, however; I’m extremely impressed with this Kansas squad.
Kentucky has Randle. Duke has Parker. But Kansas to me has the best team of all the squads that played last night. Duke played about as good of a game as they could have and KU played no where near as good of a game as they are capable of. I think injuries aside, this Kansas team can beat anybody out there. I will not be surprised one bit to see Perry Ellis, Andrew Wiggins, and company, cutting down the nets in April. The beauty of the Men’s game of course is that it will be decided on the court and not in the polls.