CHICAGO -- The truth is that these two tradition-rich schools and pair of Hall of Fame coaches should be facing each other for the second time in seven months.
Did you realize that?
Because Kentucky coach John Calipari definitely realizes that.
"I wish we were playing a year ago at the end, obviously," Calipari said in advance of Tuesday night's Champions Classic here at the United Center, where Duke and Kentucky are scheduled to meet for the first time since November 2013.
But Duke and Kentucky should be meeting for the second time since November 2013.
And for the first time since last season's national championship game.
And -- at the risk of sounding like a Scooby Doo villain -- they would be if those meddling Wisconsin Badgers wouldn't have upset the top-ranked Wildcats in the Final Four. But those meddling Wisconsin Badgers did upset the top-ranked Wildcats in the Final Four. So college basketball never got a Duke-Kentucky matchup last season. And that's too bad -- for everybody except Wisconsin fans, obviously. But this year's Champions Classic will still be great even if it's not a rematch, and even if the cast of characters is almost completely different, and even if the stakes aren't nearly as high as they would've been last April.
And do you want to know why this year's Champions Classic will be great?
Because it's always great.
This is the fifth year of the made-for-TV event featuring rotating games between Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State. The first year, in 2011, it was Duke-Michigan State and Kansas-Kentucky in New York. Then, in 2012, it was Duke-Kentucky and Kansas-Michigan State in Atlanta. Then, in 2013, it was Duke-Kansas and Kentucky-Michigan State in Chicago. Then, in 2014, it was Duke-Michigan State and Kansas-Kentucky in Indianapolis. And now, in 2015, it's Duke-Kentucky and Kansas-Michigan State in Chicago.
No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 5 Duke is Tuesday night's first game.
No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 13 Michigan State is the nightcap.
And if history is an indicator then something historic or significant that serves as a sign of what's to come this season will happen because something historic or significant that serves as a sign of what's to come always happens at the Champions Classic.
For proof, let's look back before we look ahead.
2011 CHAMPIONS CLASSIC
As chance would have it, the inaugural Champions Classic doubled as the stage Duke's Mike Krzyzewski used to become the winningest coach in Division I men's basketball history. The Blue Devils beat Michigan State 74-69 at Madison Square Garden for Coach K's 903rd career win, which broke Bob Knight's record. And that Knight was courtside made for a cool scene. Meantime, the evening also provided the country with its first real look at Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd Gilchrist. They combined for 26 points, 15 rebounds and 10 blocks in Kentucky's 75-65 win over Kansas. Then they went on to lead UK to the national title. Then they went first and second overall in the 2012 NBA Draft.
2012 CHAMPIONS CLASSIC
Kentucky was third in the preseason AP poll despite losing all five starters from its title team that finished 38-2. And this was the Wildcats' first big test -- a game with Duke in the Champions Classic. They lost 75-68 to their lower-ranked opponent, and it was clear, even then, that UK might just be too inexperienced to reach expectations. Four months later, it was undeniable. From No. 3 to the NIT. You remember the loss to Robert Morris, right?
2013 CHAMPIONS CLASSIC
You could reasonably argue that the 2013 Champions Classic was the best to date, all things considered. The first game was between No. 1 Kentucky and No. 2 Michigan State, which became the earliest No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the history of college basketball. The Spartans won 78-74 while UK freshman Julius Randle got 27 points. And what followed was epic -- specifically a matchup between Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins and Duke freshman Jabari Parker. Wiggins got 22 points in a win. Parker got 27 points in a loss. Joel Embiid only got two points in 20 minutes for the Jayhawks. And, the following June, those three players -- Wiggins, Parker and Embiid -- went first, second and third in the NBA Draft.
2014 CHAMPIONS CLASSIC
Remember how the 2012 Champions Classic suggested Kentucky might struggle? The 2014 Champions Classic did the opposite. UK beat Kansas 72-40 -- 72-40! -- in the third game of what ended up being a 38-game winning streak. And in the other game, the Duke-Michigan State game, the nation was introduced to Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow -- Duke's three freshmen who combined for 49 points in an 81-71 victory. They went on, of course, to lead Duke to the national title. All three are now in the NBA.
So what will be the story of the 2015 Champions Classic?
Will it be remembered for Kentucky's Skal Labissiere performing in a way that leads to him ultimately becoming the fourth player in the Champions Classic's five years to go on to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft? Or will it be remembered as the launch of Grayson Allen's National Player of the Year campaign at Duke? Or will the real story actually be something that happens in the less-sexy-but-still-interesting Kansas-Michigan State matchup?
Truth be told, your guess is as good, or better, than mine.
But something awesome will definitely happen.
Because it always does.