This Champions Classic gives us the greatest opening night in the history of college basketball
No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Kentucky will be the first-time the top-two ranked teams have met on opening night
NEW YORK -- The idea behind the Champions Classic was simple: get four of the nation's best and most consistently great college basketball programs, put them under one roof and conduct a doubleheader that will generate early interest in this sport that starts each November but is often overshadowed by football.
The logic was solid.
But could anybody have imagined this? And by this, what I mean is a night when the Champions Classic actually happens on the opening day of the season -- it didn't used to, if you didn't know -- and with the top four teams in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll all in the same building. And with the No. 1 team playing the No. 2 team. And with the No. 3 team playing the No. 4 team. And with four Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame coaches, all of whom have won national championships, roaming the sideline?
Could anybody have imagined that?
Does it get any better than that?
"I don't think you can script it much better than that," Kansas coach Bill Self told me late Monday after arriving here in New York, where his third-ranked Jayhawks will play fourth-ranked Duke in the opening game of the Champions Classic inside Madison Square Garden. "There will be a lot of teams playing across America, obviously. But it will be showcased here at Madison Square Garden more so than anywhere else."
The college basketball season starts Tuesday -- technically at noon ET when Baylor, Middle Tennessee and Lamar host games that won't register much nationally, if at all. But things will get super-good quickly. And what we'll ultimately experience is an unprecedented night in what will eventually become an unprecedented week.
Let me explain.
Never before, since the Associated Press poll began ranking college basketball teams in 1948, has No. 1 played No. 2 on the opening day of the season. But that'll change around 9:30 ET when No. 1 Michigan State plays No. 2 Kentucky in the second game of the Champions Classic. And considering No. 1 LSU is playing No. 2 Alabama in college football on Saturday, what we'll do over the next five days is experience the first time in history that No. 1 and No. 2 will play each other in both college basketball and college football in the same week.
Are you fired up yet or are you fired up yet?
To be clear, the Champions Classic has been great before and, honestly, every year without exception since it started in 2011. It gave us No. 1 vs. No. 2, and No. 4 vs. No. 5, in 2013. It gave us No. 1 vs. No. 2, and No. 4 vs. No. 7, in 2017. It gave us Zion Williamson last season. And that was fun for everybody but UK.
But we've never had this.
Is Zion, or anybody like Zion, here?
In fact, there might not be an eventual top-10 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft in this season's Champions Classic -- which is odd and unusual considering last year there were three. (Year before that, there were four. Year before that, there were three. Year before that, there were two. Year before that, there were four. Year before that, there were four.) But it also might be a theme of this season considering the preseason No. 1, Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans, probably don't have a future first-round pick on its roster.
Can you win it all without a first-round pick?
MSU will soon find out, probably.
Either way, the Spartans' pursuit of Izzo's second national title, exactly 20 years after Mateen Cleaves helped him get his first, begins Tuesday night. It's No. 3 Kansas vs. No. 4 Duke followed by No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Kentucky in a doubleheader inside what's commonly called the world's most famous arena.
The 2019 Champions Classic is an unprecedented gift.
I can't wait to open it.
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