Champions Classic: Previewing Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky, Kansas

Breaking down the teams in the Champions Classic at the United Center.

GAME 1

No. 2 Michigan State (1-0) vs. No. 1 Duke (2-0)
When: 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Odds: Duke by 1 1/2.
Duke

  • Last season: 28-9, lost to South Carolina in NCAA Tournament second round
  • Nickname: Blue Devils
  • Coach: Mike Krzyzewski
  • Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Who’s gone: G Luke Kennard, G Frank Jackson, G Matt Jones, F Jayson Tatum, F Harry Giles, F Amile Jefferson, C Chase Jeter
  • Who’s back: G Grayson Allen averaged 14.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists last season, F Marques Bolden averaged 1.5 points in 6.5 minutes per game.
  • Who’s new: F Marvin Bagley III started college a year early and Duke unretired Danny Ferry’s No. 35 jersey to give to him; G Gary Trent Jr. is the son of the “Shaq of the MAC” at Ohio University who played nearly a decade in the NBA; F Wendell Carter Jr. was rated as the nation’s No. 4 overall recruit by multiple evaluation services.
  • The Skinny: Duke loaded up on potential one-and-done freshmen — players who likely could enter the draft after one season in Durham — for the third time in four years to replace the three they lost to the pros during the offseason. Duke is traditionally a perimeter-oriented program, but the strength of this team will be on the interior and the Blue Devils will go as far as Bagley and Carter can carry them.
  • This season: (2-0). The Blue Devils opened the season with a 97-88 victory over Elon and beat Utah Valley 99-69 to give coach Mike Krzyzewski his 1,000th victory with the program.

Michigan State

  • Last season: 20-15, lost to Kansas in NCAA round of 32.
  • Nickname: Spartans.
  • Coach: Tom Izzo
  • Conference: Big Ten.
  • Who’s gone: G Eron Harris, G Alvin Ellis, F Matt Van Dyk.
  • Who’s back: Four of the top five and eight of the top 10 scorers from last season. F Miles Bridges turned down a chance to be an NBA lottery pick to return for his sophomore season. Bridges is the Big Ten preseason player of the year and a national player of the year candidate. F Nick Ward averaged nearly 14 points and six-plus rebounds as a freshman, trailing only Bridges on the team. Ward joined Bridges on the preseason All-Big Ten team.
  • Who’s new: F Jaren Jackson and F Xavier Tillman are talented enough as freshmen to be key players on a loaded team. The 6-11, 242-pound Jackson is projected by some as top-five pick in the 2018 NBA draft. Izzo said the 6-8, 260-pound Tillman was the biggest surprise in early practices.
  • The Skinny: Izzo, a Hall of Fame coach, has a good shot to win his second national championship, reach his eighth Final Four and win his first Big Ten regular season title since 2012.
  • This season: (1-0). Michigan State opened the season with a 98-66 win over North Florida behind Bridges’ 20 points and 10 rebounds.

GAME 2

No. 4 Kansas (1-0) vs. No. 7 Kentucky (2-0)
When: 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Odds: Kansas  by 3.

Kentucky

Duke's Marvin Bagley III (35) drives to the basket against Utah Valley's Isaac Neilson, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. | Gerry Broome/AP

  • Last season: 32-6, reached NCAA Tournament South Region final.
  • Nickname: Wildcats.
  • Coach: John Calipari.
  • Conference: Southeastern.
  • Who’s gone: G De’Aaron Fox, G Malik Monk, F Bam Adebayo (all NBA lottery picks); G Isaiah Briscoe, F Derek Willis, G Dominique Hawkins, G Mychal Mulder, F Isaac Humphries.
  • Who’s back: F Wenyen Gabriel. The 6-foot-9 sophomore started 23 of 38 games before his minutes dwindled in the postseason but returns as the Wildcats’ top scorer (4.6 points) and rebounder (4.8); Fs Sacha Killeya-Jones and Tai Wynyard, both 6-10, look for bigger roles this season.
  • Who’s new: G Hamidou Diallo. The mid-year enrollee who dressed but didn’t play flirted with entering the NBA Draft before deciding to return and get actual minutes. Calipari offset some of the departures with his usual crop of high school All-Americans: G Quade Green (6-0) and Fs Jarred Vanderbilt (6-9), Nick Richards (6-11), Kevin Knox (6-9) and P.J. Washington (6-7). Gs Jemarl Baker and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander were top-100 players as well.
  • The Skinny: The Wildcats’ latest roster turnover has left Calipari with perhaps his youngest group since arriving in Lexington eight years ago. With no veteran upperclassmen, Gabriel, Wynyard and Killeya-Jones must provide leadership while competing with the newcomers for minutes. Calipari’s immediate task is finding a floor general like John Wall and Tyler Ulis, but his history has shown things often work out. Having so much high-level talent is a problem any coach would love to have, though Calipari warns it might be ugly early on.
  • This season: (2-0). Kentucky trailed Utah Valley by 12 before pulling away for a 73-63 victory and had all it could handle in a 73-69 win over Vermont.

Kansas

  • Last season: 31-5, lost in first round of NCAA Tournament
  • Nickname: Jayhawks
  • Coach: Bill Self
  • Conference: Big 12
  • Who’s gone: G Frank Mason III, G Josh Jackson, F Carlton Bragg, F Landen Lucas, F Dwight Coleby
  • Who’s back: G Devonte Graham is the leading returning scorer at 13.4 points per game last season; G Svi Mykhailiuk averaged 9.8 points and flirted with the NBA before returning for senior season; G Lagerald Vick averaged 7.4 points; F Udoka Azubuike missed most of his freshman season with a wrist injury.
  • Who’s new: G Malik Newman was a top-10 recruit who transferred from Mississippi State and sat out last season; G Sam Cunliffe is a transfer from Arizona State who becomes eligible in December; F Billy Preston was a consensus five-star recruit from Oak Hill Academy; G Marcus Garret was a four-star prospect from Dallas.
  • The Skinny: Kansas lost the national player of the year in Mason and a lottery pick in Jackson and is still favored to win its 14th straight Big 12 title. The Jayhawks should have more size with Azubuike and Preston in the paint, while Graham is poised to take over for Mason as a potential player of the year. If the newcomers can contribute, including do-everything guard Newman, the Jayhawks could make a Final Four run.
  • This season: (1-0). Kansas opened the season with a 92-56 win over Tennessee State.