|The best single night of the non-conference season is the Champions Classic tonight in Chicago. (nationofblue.com)|
In the first week of the college basketball season, when ranked programs are supposed to hone their skills against weaker opponents, the big boys are coming out to do battle tonight in Chicago. Four of the most storied programs in college basketball will be under the same roof for a double header that will be the center of the college basketball world.
This is the final leg of the three-year, round-robin-style Champions Classic. No. 1 vs. No. 2 and No. 4 vs. No. 5. Kentucky vs. Michigan State and Duke vs. Kansas. These are matchups perfect for March but four months early. Freshmen phenoms will battle. Hall of Fame coaches will try to outwit their counterpart. Passionate fan bases will get into heated Twitter fights about how the other team is a bunch of cheaters.
These coaches and programs need to be commended for agreeing to this tournament. It seems like an easy sell; go play in the United Center or Madison Square Garden in prime time against one of the best teams in the country. But doing so the second week of the season when even John Calipari thinks his team of McDonalds All-Americans isn't very good yet is a lot to ask.
Yet no one will look in March at a Kentucky or Michigan State loss tonight as a reason either should fall in the bracket seeding. A win for either side doesn't guarantee anything, but it's a marker to evaluate and boost a team's confidence. And after playing this level of competition, Miami of Ohio is going to seem like a walk in the park. You want your team to get better? Play the best.
One of the best decisions of the college basketball season thus far was to extend the classic for another three years, traveling to Indianapolis in 2014, Chicago in 2015 and New York City in 2016. The Maui Invitational and Preseason NIT are great early-season tournaments, but there is no greater one night of hoops in November than the Champions Classic. You know what you will get every year. Great players, great coaches and a ton of hype.
In the first year of the event, Kansas faced Kentucky. Those two teams later met up in the national championship game. Enjoy the games tonight and hope and we may be lucky enough to see part two of these matchups in March.
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