Cham­pi­ons Clas­sic tim­ing tests hoops elites

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS - By Dave Skretta AP Sports Writer

LAWRENCE, KAN. » The big­gest thing Kansas coach Bill Self wants to change about the Cham­pi­ons Clas­sic is his record.

The teams? The tim­ing? The lo­ca­tion? He’s good with all of it. So are his coun­ter­parts at Duke, Ken­tucky and Michi­gan State, who have been in­volved in the an­nual dou­ble­header pit­ting a quar­tet of col­lege bas­ket­ball’s blue bloods since its in­cep­tion. But where Mike Krzyzewski, John Cali­pari and Tom Izzo have all won at least half their games, the Jay­hawks have dropped four of their six con­tests since the first event in 2011 at Madi­son Square Gar­den.

“It’s al­ways nice to see how much poise we have in a pres­sure sit­u­a­tion,” said Self, whose fourth-ranked Jay­hawks face No. 5 Ken­tucky in Tues­day’s night­cap in Chicago. “I cer­tainly an­tic­i­pate it not be­ing pretty, but I do an­tic­i­pate both teams play­ing hard.”

Therein may be the big­gest draw­back of the Cham­pi­ons Clas­sic.

The event has al­ways been sched­uled the first or sec­ond week of the sea­son, which means all four teams are still try­ing to in­te­grate trans­fers and fresh­men. Most years they’ve only played one game, and for Kansas, that in­volved fly­ing from Hawaii to New York in be­tween last sea­son.

The re­sult is games that are of­ten chaotic and un­pol­ished, and out­comes that aren’t al­ways in­dica­tive of what’s to come. Ken­tucky romped to a 32-point vic­tory over the Jay­hawks a

years ago and an even­tual Fi­nal Four team from Michi­gan State was soundly beaten by Duke.

The top-ranked Blue Devils and sec­ond-ranked Spar­tans meet again in the opener Tues­day.

“It’s the first re­ally mar­quee game for them,” Krzyzewski said of his young team, “and I just want them to en­joy the mo­ment, to be im­mersed in the mo­ment. Don’t worry about mis­takes and then it’s a mat­ter of let­ting them play, and if we see any­thing . ... ‘Just set­tle down, man. Let’s play.”’

As it stands, the kick­off to the col­lege bas­ket­ball sea­son hap­pens on a Fri­day night, which keeps it from be­ing over­whelmed by col­lege foot­ball and the NFL. So by play­ing the Cham­pi­ons Clas­sic on Tues­day night, it takes the spot­light of the sports land­scape as much as can rea­son­ably be ex­pected.

In fact, Krzyzewski would like to see the sea­son kick off for ev­ery­body on Tues­day, and the four teams to con­tinue play­ing the Cham­pi­ons Clas­sic as the mar­quee event of the night.

“I think it’s one of those nights that you should start the sea­son with a game like that,” he said. “It’s a big-time dou­ble­header. I’m glad our four schools have got­ten in it and con­tinue to do it. It’s such a good idea.”

The tim­ing isn’t go­ing to change for at least the next two years, with games al­ready sched­uled for In­di­anapo­lis next sea­son and New York in 2019. That would fin­ish the lat­est con­tract, which the schools agreed to last year — though all of them have ex­pressed in­ter­est in keep­ing it go­ing.

There are few al­ter­na­tives for chang­ing the tim­ing of the event.

If you were to push it later into November, you would run into the Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day and many es­tab­lished in-sea­son tour­na­ments, such as the Maui In­vi­ta­tional. Push­ing it into early De­cem­ber runs into col­lege foot­ball con­fer­ence cham­pi­onships, and late De­cem­ber brings bowl games. Push­ing into Jan­uary and con­flicts arise with con­fer­ence sched­ules, not to men­tion non-con­fer­ence games that are al­ready set as part of the SEC-Big 12 Chal­lenge and Big Ten-ACC Chal­lenge.

“The month of De­cem­ber is not an easy month for bas­ket­ball,” Izzo said, be­fore con­ced­ing: “Would I like a cou­ple more games un­der my belt be­fore I play that game? Yeah.”

There are other draw­backs to the cur­rent tim­ing be­sides sloppy play, though. The com­put­ers that the NCAA se­lec­tion com­mit­tee re­lies on don’t for­get the games, but the com­mit­tee mem­bers them­selves may tend to over­look them when they set the NCAA Tour­na­ment field some four months later.

But those draw­backs are bal­anced out by the ben­e­fits: top-level com­pe­ti­tion early in the sea­son, while there is still plenty of time to fix mis­takes, and unique vis­i­bil­ity for the schools in­volved.

“It’s be­ing talked about as the big­gest night of bas­ket­ball un­til the Fi­nal Four. I think that’s pretty good. I think there’s got to be some­thing good to it,” Izzo said. “I’m cool with it. What­ever it is, when­ever it is, wher­ever it is. That’s been our motto any­way.”


Kansas coach Bill Self ap­plauds dur­ing the first half of the team’s NCAA col­lege bas­ket­ball game against Ten­nessee State in Lawrence, Kan., Fri­day, Nov. 10, 2017.

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