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Five things basketball fans learned from the Champions Classic

By NANCY ARMOUR, AP National Writer

CHICAGO (AP) — If the Champions Classic is any indication of what’s in store for the rest of the season in college hoops, it’s going to be a fun year. Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle were as good as advertised, if not better, and Kentucky, Michigan State, Duke and Kansas all showed the makings of Final Four teams.The only bummer? The incessant whistles that often made the highly entertaining games look as if they were being played in slow-motion.

It may only be a few days into the season, but here are five things we learned from Tuesday night’s Champions Classic:

GROWING PAINS: NBA scouts and coaches may be drooling over the young Wildcats, but Kentucky coach John Calipari was right to be concerned about how they’d fare against a tough, experienced Michigan State team. After steamrolling two nonconference patsies, the top-ranked Wildcats were humbled early and often by the No. 2 Spartans. Smothering the Wildcats defensively and leaving them flat-footed with their surprising speed on offense, Michigan State had a 10-0 lead before Kentucky got its first bucket. The ‘Cats had seven turnovers before the midway point of the first half, and would finish with 17. They made just 20 of 36 free throws.
“You got guys crying in there, which is a good thing,” Calipari said. “I want it to hurt like that. I knew this would get their attention.” And if the Wildcats take this loss to heart, look out. Julius Randle nearly pulled off the comeback on his own, scoring 23 of his 27 points in the second half, including a jumper with 42 seconds that pared Michigan State’s lead to 2. The Wildcats also outrebounded the Spartans 44-32 — yes, you read that right.
“They’ll get better because of this game,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.

SPARTY CAN RUN: Michigan State is often dismissed as a football team on hardwood because of its stingy, relentless defense. But these Spartans can run with the best of ‘em. Really. Michigan State had 21 fast-break points, and the Wildcats will be having nightmares about all the times Gary Harris and Keith Appling left them in the dust.
“We’ve been trying to run since last year,” Harris said. “This year, we’re actually doing it. We put a bigger emphasis on it this summer, and we have the guys to do it.”

WIGGINS VS. PARKER: Watching the wunderkids, it was easy to forget they’re only two games into their college careers. Limited to only nine minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, Andrew Wiggins was simply dazzling in the second. After badgering coach Bill Self all day to guard Jabari Parker, he simply did it, essentially shutting Parker down over the last 10 minutes. Wiggins finished with 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting, including a long jumper and dunk that turned a tense, 2-point game into a Kansas victory. “It’s just all pride. You take pride in what you do, if it’s offense or defense,” Wiggins said.
Parker was equally impressive, finishing with 27 points, nine rebounds, two steals and a block before fouling out with 1:16 left. “He was best player in the game for a big stretch tonight,” Self said.

SWALLOW THE WHISTLE: New rules this season are intended to increase scoring and open up games that were little better than slugfests. So far all they’ve succeeded in doing is turning exciting games into tractor pulls. The Michigan State-Kentucky game was an excruciating 2 1/2 hours, with 46 fouls called, including four in a 12-second span. The Duke-Kansas game was a little better, coming in around 2 hours, but with a whopping 53 fouls. No wonder there were groans and chants of “Let them play!” from fans.
“To be honest, I don’t like it,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “It just takes away all aggressiveness defensively. … We’ve got to adjust because that was a pretty fragmented game.”
But Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said he’s tired of hearing everyone whine about the fouls. “The officials are doing what they’re supposed to do. Everyone just has to keep adjusting,” he said. “Too much is being said about it. Start playing the way we’re supposed to play.”

KEEP IT COMING: Games hyped as much as these were — “Sneak preview of the Final Four!” — often fall flat, particularly when they come so early in the season. But Michigan State-Kentucky and Kansas-Duke more than lived up to their billing, as did the individual matchups. With defending champion Louisville, Arizona, Michigan and about a dozen others looking like they’ve got the potential to go deep into March, this could be a heck of a season.
“I think it’s going to be an unbelievable year for college basketball,” Self said. “There’s the potential for more great teams than what we’ve had in recent memory.”

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6 comments

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  1. Mick Murrell

    Larry, that game was almost two and a half hours. I don’t mind cleaning up the handchecking, but 5 hours for a doubleheader is too long.

    1. larryvaught

      It was a long, long, long night Mick

  2. King Ghidora

    They will have to cut back on the whistles because people won’t watch free throw contests for long. They wanted to speed up the game but they have slowed it down tremendously so far. Maybe teams will catch on and maybe they won’t. I remember when hand checks were called as do most of the older people around. The reason they stopped is that it’s almost instinct to put your hand on a guy to prevent being ran over by that guy. They couldn’t control hand checks so they stopped trying. Maybe that was a mistake but maybe we will all have to learn the same lesson again. There were other things they could have done to speed up the game like creating a penalty for flopping. This jump was a huge one. I will believe they can make people play 1960’s style basketball again when I see it. Defense basically didn’t exist back then. That’s why you saw people scoring 30+ ppg pretty often. Pistol Pete scored much more than that of course. No way he could have done that under the rules of the 1990’s-2000’s. Issel couldn’t have scored like he did either nor could Austin Carr or Johnny Neumann or Rick Barry or a lot of players at big name schools. By the early 1980’s it was very, very rare to see a player from a big name school average 30 ppg. From the early 50’s up to the early 80’s it was common. The difference was the defense and the contact. And guess who started that trend of physical defense? Yep. It was UK under Joe B. especially when Robey, Phillips and Lee were bulling their way around the floor knowing they had a whole lot of fouls to waste because the bench was very deep at the time. When the Cats won the title in 1978 using that style it wasn’t long before everyone was doing it.

    I’m actually sort of torn between wanting to see actual basketball without all the pushing and shoving and hand checking and wanting to see basketball where defense actually matters. It’s not impossible to play d with your feet. Not for some people. But the average player can’t do it. Joe Hall took athletes and taught them to play basketball because his system required defense and that requires a different set of skills than the shooter oriented teams that Rupp recruited. You didn’t see any teams with shooters like Grevey, Connor and Flynn under Hall except for the one he inherited from Rupp of course. And for their first year under Hall’s system they were terrible. The team played .500 ball that year. They really didn’t become great until they more or less rebelled against Hall’s system in 1075 and started shooting from the outside where their real strength was. They made the final game after beating a great IU team too. Only Wooden’s announcement that he would retire saved UCLA from losing that title game. After that year it was all Hall Ball and they did win in 1978. But Hall also coached the ugliest game of all time against G’town too.

    This UK team would really do better under the hand checking system IMO. Too bad they won’t get the chance. I actually like basketball without all the contact. But I would like to see #9 come back to Lexington and hand checking is probably the best way for that to happen.

  3. Gene T.

    With all the fouls being called, I would like to see Cal go deeper into his bench. I believe he will. The old Wooden way with 7 deep was good in the day. This team has too many good players to not use at least 8 or 9 on a given day in crucial minutes. I think Cal has a very deep bench this year. Lee has got to get more than a minute or two. With his energy and talent, he needs more playing time. Run them Cal, and wear down the other team.

  4. Kokamo Joe

    Calipari has said and his history indicates that he will settle on a 7 man rotation. With all the talent that he has on this team I don’t see how that is likely. Calipari also has indicated that he is committed to putting players in the NBA. In order to do that he must give his stars as much playing time as possible, but how can he leave some on the bench?

  5. AndyP

    Cal will end up playing 8, not 7, when the game is in doubt.

    Anyone who doesn’t like the new rules is probably too young to remember how the game is supposed to be played.

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