Champions Classic: Early notes from the United Center

Nov. 12, 2013 @ 06:00 PM

ESPN’s stable of commentators came rolling through the United Center media room over the last hour to discuss tonight’s epic college basketball doubleheader.

No. 1 Kentucky and No. 2 Michigan State play at 7:30 p.m., with No. 4 Duke and No. 5 Kansas facing off in the nightcap of the Champions Classic.

“This will probably be better than the Final Four,” former Duke player and coach Jay Bilas said. “It will be more powerful anyway. We’d be lucky to have a Final Four this good.”

The only time fouor No. 1 seeds made the Final Four was in 2008 in San Antonio, when

Memphis, UCLA, Kansas and North Carolina comprised the national semifinals.

The Duke-Kansas matchup will feature two of the nation’s top freshmen in Andrew Wiggins of the Jayhawks and Duke’s Jabari Parker. The talking points from both sides have stressed this is the Blue Devils against the Jayhawks, not a 1-on-1 matchup between Parker and Wiggins.

Former Michigan star Jalen Rose, how an ESPN analyst with Bilas, knows how the game is played. But….

“They can say what they want to say,” Rose said. “But when Jabari Parker has the ball and he sees Andrew Wiggins in front of him, he wants to put on a show.”

Wiggins was the No. 1 rated player in last year’s high school senior class with Parker No. 2. Kentucky’s Julius Randle was also a top-five recruit.

The 6-9 Randle has averaged 22.5 points and 15 rebounds over Kentucky’s first two games. Parker scored 22 in Duke’s 111-77 win over Davidson.

Wiggins only scored 16 points in Kansas’ season-opening 80-63 win over Louisiana-Monroe.

Bilas thinks all three will enter the NBA Draft next summer and that, for what it’s worth, Parker and Randle are a little ahead of Wiggins for now.

“He was the No.1 rated player coming out of high school,” Bilas said. “But the draft isn’t today. I think Wiggins, Parker and Randle will probably be 1-2-3. But I don’t know the order and nobody does. Wiggins is really talented but I don’t think he’s as prepared to take a game over as the others. I think Parker and Randle are better right this second. But right this second isn’t going to determine it.”


Foul mood – New rules interpretations this season will basically take away most charging foul calls and outlaw hand checking. The goal is to open up the game for the offense but it’s caused a lot of angst among fans and some coaches who think the games will turn into foul-fests.

Bilas has no sympathy for the dissenters.

“There is a really easy way to keep from fouling,” Bilas said. “Don’t put your freakin’ hands on anyone. All the whining is getting laughable to me. No good coach teaches, when you are guarding the ball, to put your hands on the ball handler or an arm bar on the ball handler. Nobody teaches that. If they had been teaching it, they had been teaching it because it won’t be called. Now everybody knows it’s called. So it’s pretty easy to wrap your head around. You can’t do it.”

As for the complaints that some players will be unguardable, Bilas called that opinion “stupid.”

He explained that simple defensive adjustments are all that is needed to survive.

“You can make them catch it further out so it’s two dribbles to get to the basket instead of one,” Bilas said. “You can bring help. You can rotate. You can trap. There are all kinds of things you can do. Play off the driver. Stay up on the shooter. It’s not that conceptually difficult to handle. If you want to avoid fouls, don’t foul.”

Special vistor -- Rose, part of the Fab Five team that lost to Duke in the 1992 NCAA final, said he intends to come to Cameron Indoor Stadium on Dec. 3 when the Wolverines and Blue Devils meet in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

He knows he won't be welcomed with much love and he's fine with it.

"Always a hostile environment," Rose said.