Tonight's Champions Classic is as good as college basketball gets

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CHICAGO -- There is a theory about college basketball that suggests the average sports fan doesn't pay much attention until after the Super Bowl, and that little matters until late February. And you know what? I think that's probably more true than not.

Yes, I love and follow this stuff 12 months a year.

Perhaps you do, too.

But most people are too tied up in football -- not to mention stories about bullying and hazing within football -- to significantly care about college basketball weeks before Thanksgiving, which is what makes what's happening here at the United Center tonight all the more remarkable. The arena that Michael Jordan built holds 20,917 people for basketball games, and the least expensive ticket available on Stubhub when I checked this morning -- a seat in the upper level and on the baseline -- was going for $210.

Then I got this email from's Connor Gregoire.

"Fans are paying an average of $366 per ticket on the secondary market to attend this year's Champions Classic at the United Center," Gregoire wrote. "That's more than double the average resale price for the same event last year at the Georgia Dome ($162 per ticket) and in 2011 at Madison Square Garden ($135). And, of course, that 2011 event featured [Duke coach] Mike Krzyzewski's Division I record 903rd win."

Translation: This is really, really something.

This event transcends college basketball.

This is appointment viewing.

When Krzyzewski, Kansas' Bill Self, Kentucky's John Calipari and Michigan State's Tom Izzo committed to play each other in 2011, 2012 and 2013 in a high-profile doubleheader with rotating opponents and locations, they knew they were doing something that would serve as the unoffical tipoff of the season. They recognized it was good for the sport and their programs. But none of those men, smart as they are, could've envisioned everything aligning so perfectly that the 2013 version would produce what many (myself included) are calling the best regular-season doubleheader in the history of college basketball.

"Three years ago I said the Champions Classic was like having a Final Four in November," said Izzo, who has coached in six Final Fours. "Look at this year’s event. It’s possible the collection of teams is even better than most Final Fours."

It's more than possible.

That's actually 100 percent true.

Because most Final Fours don't have four top-five teams -- much less four Hall of Fame-caliber coaches and at least 14 projected first-round picks in future NBA Drafts. How good is this? The Kentucky-Michigan State game provides the earliest No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the history of college basketball, and it's actually the undercard to No. 4 Duke vs. No. 5 Kansas because that game will place Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker -- two amateurs who have already been on the cover of Sports Illustrated and are projected top-five picks -- on the court together in Parker's hometown.

That alone ensures NBA fans will pay attention.

And NBA scouts?

Rest assured, they'll be inside the United Center, too.

"Approximately 300 media and 70 to 80 scouts have been approved [for credentials]," said Charley Green, who handles credentialing for the event. "And the scout number varies because some [NBA] executives will play more for a specific lower-level seat as opposed to sitting in our main scout sections. So those won't even show up in my system."

Green added that more than 50 media credentials were declined because of space.

"This is easly the most media and scouts to apply in the three years of the event," he said.

So whether you're fortunate enough to be in the building (like me) or reduced to watching from home (like millions), get ready because it doesn't matter whether you love great teams, iconic coaches, elite prospects or all three, everything will be on display tonight. Tipoff is set for 7:30 EST. By the time it's over and done, we could have a new No. 1, a new Player of the Year favorite and new opinions about all sorts of things in the sport.

CBS Sports Insider

Gary Parrish is an award-winning college basketball columnist and television analyst for CBS Sports who also hosts the highest-rated afternoon drive radio show in Memphis, where he lives with his wife... Full Bio

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