CRAWFORD | Thanksgiving comes early in Champions Classic - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Thanksgiving comes early in Champions Classic

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© ESPN graphic. © ESPN graphic.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- I don't have family in Chicago, but I feel like I'm making a journey to Thanksgiving Day anyway.

When Kentucky, Michigan State, Duke and Kansas get together in the United Center Tuesday night, the media meal ought to be turkey and dressing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

If you can't be grateful for a night of basketball like this, then it isn't your game.

The Champions Classic lives up to its name most seasons, because the participants rarely dip below the level of elite. This year, they happen to be four of the nation's top five teams.

Mike DeCourcy, the Basketball Writers Hall of Fame sportswriter for The Sporting News, says this could be the greatest regular-season assembly of future NBA talent in recent college basketball history. Looking at his breakdown here, it's hard to argue. He identifies 18 future pros, and that doesn't include a few on all of the rosters who probably will get a shot.

The University of Kentucky basketball team steps into this spotlight with known talent -- but how that talent will react to the stage is not yet known, and it's the primary interest of Wildcats coach John Calipari entering the event.

No. 1 UK is an underdog to No. 2 Michigan State, and Calipari, correctly, rejects the notion of placing any high degree of importance on a November basketball game. What he does expect is either his young players will respond to the challenge, rise up to their competitive instincts and show themselves to be the clear No. 1 in the nation even at this early stage -- or to make mistakes typical of young teams, and learn what they need to address to be the clear No. 1 by the end.

"Every game we play is hyped," Calipari said. "This is a big deal, but it's November. I mean, how big of a deal is it? It's our next game. If you lose, you move on, you learn from it. The greatest thing for us is we have learned from every game we played so far. You know we are just like this but when it gets like this, where are you now? We are going to find out and we have time to work on it."

The matchup has featured a war of words between Calipari and Tom Izzo, with the coaches trading quips and then walking back the barbs. Tom Izzo told Michigan State students during an early public practice that his team was "working to kick Kentucky's (rear)."

Calipari responded by saying that his players didn't even know when the Michigan State game was. That other programs circle the Kentucky game because they're filled with players who wanted UK scholarship offers, that Kentucky doesn't circle games.

Calipari has said that testing a young team like this so early in the season is "not fair." Izzo quipped that Cal should just forfeit and go shopping in Chicago.

"We laugh about it," Calipari said.

Michigan State is talented and experienced. It's generally agreed to have the nation's best backcourt. UK's front-court talent is impressive. Julius Randle is one of a handful of players in the arena tonight who have their eyes on national player of the year awards.

"I am excited," Calipari said. "The things in a game like this, with this team, questions are answered. I don't think they are going to say I wonder if they have a talented team, let's watch, they know. So then the question is about how we play together, how hard we play, how we deal with adversity and how we deal with prosperity. Questions will be answered tomorrow. You are playing against a well-coached team, Tommy (Izzo) does a great job and has a veteran team."

The nightcap is every bit as attractive. No. 4 Duke may be the true No. 1 at this point in the season. The Blue Devils dispatched a solid Davidson team in their opener 111-77 -- and shot 70.4 percent in the game. Freshman Jabari Parker combined with Duke's returning standouts, and with transfer Rodney Hood, give Duke a scary offensive attack.

No. 5 Kansas adds the nation's top-rated high school recruit, Andrew Wiggins, to several other NBA hopefuls.

"There will be electricity in the air, a Final Four environment," ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said.

Let us give thanks.

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