State Farm Champions Classic: Kentucky, Kansas face off

By Darrell Bird, The Sports Xchange  |  Nov. 14, 2017 at 12:02 AM
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With apologies to Disney World, the happiest place on earth this week might be the offices of the State Farm Champions Classic.

The event, which brings together four of college basketball's all-time great programs for an early-season doubleheader, began in 2011 with a random pairing of teams.

The third cycle begins this year and, as fate would have it, the games on Tuesday night at the United Center in Chicago will pit No. 1 Duke vs. No. 2 Michigan State and No. 4 Kansas against No. 5 Kentucky.

Coach John Calipari knows his young Kentucky squad is in for a fight.

"This is going to be a really hard game for us to win," Calipari said. "Kansas is flying. They're shooting 25 to 30 threes. They're going to shoot them whether we're zone, man, triangle-and-two, box-and-one. They're taking 25 to 30 threes.

"They'll still run some of their weave into pick-and-roll. They do a lot of pick-and-roll to try throw skip passes to shoot. I mean, they're who they always are."

Calipari says he has his hands full just worrying about his freshman-dominated team, especially defense from his guards Quade Green and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

"Guard defense is really ... what's the word above bad? Atrocious," Calipari said. "We're just getting beat on the dribble by everybody.

"Defense starts on the ball. It always has. And if you can't guard the ball, it's hard to keep you in. Like I had to take Quade out. He gave up like five points in 18 seconds. You can't score enough to stay in the game.

"It's going to be a process. We have to be able to stay in front of people. Freshmen get beat that way. That's what freshmen do."

The coach said he knew he was in for a huge challenge this season, but eight freshmen is pushing the limit.

"Kicking dogs, throwing cats. I'm dying here," Calipari joked. "I'm telling you, honestly, this thing, I'm fighting to get my mind set in that I've got to stay in the moment of all this and I've got to be as positive for these guys as I can.

"And then I've got to try to build this toward the end of the year. You're seeing if our guards can't stay in front of anybody we'll get beat by 30 up there. Thirty."

Kentucky (2-0) owns victories over Utah Valley and Vermont.

Freshman Hamidou Diallo leads the Wildcats in scoring at 17.0 points per game. Next comes freshman Kevin Knox at 11.5 and freshman P.J. Washington at 11.0. Knox is the top rebounder at 7.0 per game.

Kansas has played just one game, a 92-56 rout of Tennessee State in Lawrence, Kan., on Friday.

Senior Devonte' Graham paced the Jayhawks with 10 points, seven rebounds and a career-best 12 assists, coming up three boards shy of his first triple-double. The Jayhawks also picked up a double-double from freshman Marcus Garrett, who 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Junior guard Legervald Vick was Kansas' leading scorer with 23 points. Senior guard Svi Mykhailiuk added 15 points, sophomore Udoka Azubuike had 13 and sophomore Malik Newton scored 12.

Kansas coach Bill Self said freshman forward Billy Preston sat out a one-game suspension for missing curfew and a class.

Business trip. #ChampionsClassic

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"Even though we're not as young as Kentucky -- I'm not saying that at all -- we've only got three guys that have ever been in the fire before too," Self said. "I'm just as curious to see how we react to the bright lights as I'm sure what their staff is to see how their guys react."

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