2-On-5: Champions Classic Analysis
1. What jumped out at you from Duke vs. Michigan State?
Mac: Michigan State’s lack of quality talent. Tom Izzo is a great coach, his team plays so hard, and I know they had a couple rotation players out with injury. The quality depth just isn’t there this year for Michigan State. Izzo has failed to win the recruiting battles for blue chips in recent offseasons and outside of their big three: Brandon Dawson, Travis Trice, and Denzel Valentine, there’s just not much help.
Joe: Duke’s freshmen played very last night. However, I was surprised at Michigan State’s dominance on the boards. Don’t get me wrong, Michigan State’s a physical team that usually does well on the glass, but they played with only one player bigger than 6’6” on the floor for most of the game. A team with Jahlil Okafor and Amile Jefferson shouldn’t get pushed around in the paint to the tune of 13 offensive boards, almost single-handedly keeping MSU in the game at times. In a year where it seems many of the nation’s top teams are flush with elite big men, Duke will need to do a better job of keeping its opponents off the glass.
2. What jumped out at you from Kansas vs. Kentucky?
Mac: The ‘Platoon System’. Kentucky is the most talented and deepest team in the country with NBA players at every position. They blitzed a very good Kansas team, and there are 10 reasons (most of which have to duck when they walk through doorways) why they are the favorites to win it all. I’m not sure I’m buying the ‘Platoon System’ though. It’s nice in theory, but at some point the platoons will get shuffled due to injury, poor performance, hot streaks, etc. and I worry about chemistry and egos. Also, the ‘Blue Platoon’ has a pass-first PG in Tyler Ulis, three big men, and SG Devin Booker who’s calling card in a long range shooter. There aren’t a lot of offensive options for that platoon, hence Booker’s 2-8 shooting night.
Joe: It’s easy to talk about Kentucky’s length and defense. Wow. However, I still believe this team will go as far as the Harrison twins can take them. Yes, Kentucky will overwhelm teams with size and rebounding, but they’ve often lacked shooting under Calipari. In the NCAA tournament, where guard play often wins the day, that can often be a deciding factor. Well the Harrison twins combined for a nifty four threes on five attempts, and perhaps more importantly, limited their turnovers. As defenses sag closer and closer to the rim against BIG Blue, Kentucky will need some outside shooting and steady ball handling from their backcourt. With a year of seasoning under their belts, Aaron and Andrew look up to the task.
3. Which player impressed you the most throughout the night?
Mac: Justise Winslow, Duke. He’s a man. Winslow is a type of player that Durham hasn’t had in a long time: a throwback, jack of all trades, super skilled, and can dominate with size, speed, strength, and athleticism. Winslow wasn’t the most heralded recruit in this #1 recruiting class, but when Duke’s shots aren’t falling and Jahlil Okafor’s in foul trouble and the season is on the line, he may end up being the guy that can keep it all together.
Joe: I came away super impressed by Winslow as well, but for me it’s Jahlil Okafor. I entered the season a bit skeptical, not of Okafor’s overall talent, but of his ability to make a quick transition to the college game in a system that recently hasn’t featured big men. I thought he was more first team All ACC than first team All American. Well that skepticism was grossly misplaced. Okafor did whatever he wanted when he had the ball last night. He looks to be a legitimate National Player of the Year candidate.
4. Which player’s performance concerns you the most?
Mac: Wayne Selden, Kansas. Remember before Selden’s freshman year when talk out of Lawrence suggested it was Selden, not uber-recruit Andrew Wiggins who had been the Jayhawks’ best player throughout the summer? Man- that was some time ago. Selden had an up and down first year, and has now laid two relative clunkers to start this season. Selden was pitched as a grinder, and last night he should have been a guy for Kansas that was un-phased and help the Jayhawks together. He didn’t and his star is beginning to fade.
Joe: Kansas’s unsettled PG spot. Between Frank Mason and freshman Devonte Graham, Kansas got a combined 1-12 shooting and ZERO assists, that includes 1-10 from Mason. I don’t want to overreact to one game against potentially the best defensive team in the country, but you’d hope to finish a game with at least one assist from your point guards. Mason, in particular, just is not creating shots for his teammates as you’d expect. I thought this tandem stood a chance to improve upon Naadir Tharpe’s at times inconsistent play from last season, and it still does down the line. However, it looks like Self may need the freshman Graham to help create for this team sooner rather than later.
5. Give us something to key in on for one of these teams moving forward?
Mac: I’m interested in Kentucky’s non-conference schedule. They have heavyweights Texas, Louisville, and North Carolina all on the schedule, and all with big men capable on paper of hanging with Kentucky’s Monstar-esque front line. If Kentucky rolls through those opponents, there’s certainly nobody in the SEC who can beat them when they are engaged. Kentucky could easily run the table though conference play. The SEC is bad.
Joe: The development of Kansas’s talented freshmen. Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre were both ranked highly coming into the season at #3 and #11 in the country, respectively. Alexander is averaging less than 16 minutes per game and Oubre is averaging 8.5. Better days are ahead for both, but if Kansas wants to extend its streak of Big 12 championships to eleven, they’ll need significant contributions from those two.