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Jabari Parker dazzles national audience, but still a step behind Andrew Wiggins

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CHICAGO — Jabari Parker seemed distracted as he wandered the nearly empty United Center hallway to the team bus after Duke’s 94-83 loss to Kansas in the second game of Tuesday night’s State Farm Champions Classic.

You could hardly blame Parker for seeming out of it. The 6-foot-9 freshman phenom created a national buzz on Tuesday night by scoring 27 points while hauling down nine rebounds in the first major game of his college career — and second college game overall — and it came in his hometown of Chicago against No. 5 Kansas and the projected No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, Andrew Wiggins.

Wiggins vs. Parker has been a hot topic of discussion since the two were elite high school prospects and Tuesday gave the duo a chance for a clash on a national stage.

While Wiggins spent much of the first half in foul trouble, Parker started out hot, knocking down 6-of-10 field goals and 4-of-5 three-pointers in the first half on his way to 19 points by the break. But in the second half, Parker was clearly a bit tired and the Jayhawks threw multiple bodies at him to try to stop him, including Wiggins for a few possessions.

Parker finished 9-for-18 from the field and 4-for-7 from three-point range in 33 minutes before fouling out with 1:16 left to play. Wiggins tallied 22 points and eight rebounds in 25 minutes but also earned the victory for his team.

The talk of Wiggins vs. Parker — and their future status as likely top NBA draft picks — dominated the headlines before, during and after a game that still featured two top-five teams and numerous other McDonald’s All-Americans, but Wiggins and Parker belong to college basketball for at least the next few months and the only thing that really mattered to them was Kansas beating Duke in a hard-fought, early-season game.

“Our names on our jerseys don’t say ‘Parker’ and ‘Wiggins’ it says ‘Kansas’ and ‘Duke,'” Wiggins said after the game. “At the end of the day, one team is going to win, not one player.”

A four-time Illinois Class 4A state champion at Simeon Career Academy on the Southside of Chicago, Parker isn’t accustomed to losing and clearly felt the emotion of the big night in his hometown. As the Blue Devils waited to take the United Center floor before the game, Parker stood in the tunnel with his teammates as Magic Johnson walked by and gave Duke some words of encouragement.

Clearly, this wasn’t your typical November college hoops battle.

“I think it’s remarkable that a kid that’s 18 can come in here during his second game…. in his hometown and playing against Kansas and he was sensational,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Imagine the emotion that you use? He wasn’t just worn out towards the end because of the way the game was played, I think he was emotioned out. He was terrific and that’s how you grow. I thought he handled everything well.”

As an undersized team facing Kansas’ length and athleticism on the interior, Duke also counted on Parker to defend in the post — something Jabari is getting used to at the college level — and he also paced the Blue Devils with nine rebounds.

“(Jabari) did a good job; they’re tough in the post. That’s what they’ve done the entire time that Bill has been there, is really strong low-post play,” Krzyzewski said of Parker’s post defense. “I think Jabari wore them down a little bit too. It’s how you punch; it’s how you counter. I thought Jabari did a great job.”

Both teams downplayed the individual matchup of Wiggins and Parker in favor of Duke versus Kansas, but with an estimated 70-plus NBA people in attendance at the United Center and the buzz of basketball fans across the country fixated on the matchup of the freshman phenoms, its hard not to focus on Wiggins vs. Parker as the night’s major storyline.

As Wiggins raced down the open floor for a dunk that put the Jayhawks ahead 87-81 with 1:16 left, Parker was the one to foul him on the play giving chase and was disqualified from the game with his fifth foul.

The play symbolized what America learned after Tuesday’s Champions Classic: Wiggins is still a half-step ahead of Parker for now, but the battle is much closer than many people had anticipated.

The sold-out United Center’s frenzied atmosphere made the Champions Classic feel a bit like March, but there are still four more months until we find out any real answers to the “Wiggins vs. Parker” debate.

If Tuesday night’s matchup was any indication, college basketball fans are going to have a lot of fun figuring out the answer.

Whitehead to stay in NBA Draft

Seton Hall guard Isaiah Whitehead (15) shoots past Xavier forward Sean O'Mara (54) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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Seton Hall sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead has signed with an agent and will remain in the NBA Draft, according to multiple reports.

Whitehead averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game last season for Seton Hall, which went 25-9 and reached the NCAA tournament. He likely projects as a second-round pick with a bit of a shaky shot, but a high usage and assist rates. His strong finish to the season likely lifted him on some draft boards, but his inefficiency will cap his ceiling in June’s draft.

The loss is significant for the Pirates as Whitehead was so much of their offense, but they’ll bring back Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo. It’s a group that will miss Whitehead’s playmaking, but is still a solid enough foundation that Seton Hall will still likely be competitive in the Big East and vying for another NCAA tournament berth.

Hart returning for Villanova’s title defense

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Villanova’s title defense just got a whole lot stouter.

Josh Hart, the leading scorer of the Wildcats’ national championship team, will return for his senior season, he announced on Twitter.

The decision for Hart to return is a major boost for Villanova in its quest to become the first back-to-back champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Hart, a 6-foot-5 guard,  averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from 3-point range.

Most draft pundits had him pegged as a potential end-of-the-first-round pick in next month’s draft though he could have certainly slid into the second should he had decided to forego his senior season. Instead, Hart will be a potential first-team All-American exhausting his eligibility in Philadelphia.

The 2016-17 season is taking shape nicely, and Hart returning to Villanova only increases the strength of the field at the top. Title game hero Kris Jenkins as well as Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges are also back for the defending champs while the super recruiting classes of Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State, Kansas’ returning core along with Josh Jackson and a solid group of teams including North Carolina, Arizona, Louisville and Wisconsin make for an intriguing upper-tier of teams that could very well make for a top-heavy season following last year’s free for all.

College basketball isn’t the NFL. Parity doesn’t equal strength and quality, and when the sport has a handful high-quality teams, it is at its best. It’s looking like that is a possibility for the 2016-17 campaign.

UConn duo returning to school

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Connecticut may have lost its 6-foot-7 wing scorer but it is keeping its defensive stalwart and leading scorer.

Center Amida Brimah and guard Rodney Purvis have withdrawn their names from NBA Draft consideration and will return to the Huskies for another year, the school announced Tuesday.

The decisions from Brimah, a 7-foot center, and Purvis, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, help soften the blow dealt by Daniel Hamilton’s decision to sign with an agent and leave school despite having some shaky draft stock. The Huskies may not open the season as a top-25 team, but they won’t be far behind and will be one of the AAC’s favorites, along with Cincinnati.

Brimah averaged 6.5 points per game last year, but blocked 2.7 shots per game. He missed 11 games last season with a broken finger. Purvis registered 12.8 points per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the floor.

Neither Brimah or Purvis were among those invited to this month’s NBA Draft combine nor were either expected to be drafted should they have kept their names in the draft.

Gonzaga’s Karnowski returning for fifth year

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The man in the middle is returning to Gonzaga.

Przemek Karnowski will return to the Bulldogs for his final year after a medical redshirt waiver was granted allowing him a fifth season in Spokane, the school announced Tuesday.

“I’m excited to be coming back,” Karnowski said in a statement. “After talking with the coaches, my parents and the team, I decided this was the best decision for me. I still have a ways to go with my rehab, but I’m staying positive about the upcoming season.”

The 7-foot-1 Karnowski, a Poland native, would have, at minimum, had professional opportunities overseas, but instead will return to play for the Bulldogs once more after a back injury limited him to five games last season. He averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior in 2014-15.

With Karnowski returning along with  Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, Gonzaga coach Mark Few will be having newcomers Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams II and Zach Collins joining an experienced and talented group.

Gonzaga (shocker) will be the West Coast Conference favorite once more, but the Bulldogs will also be fielding a team that should open the season in most everyone’s top-15.

Michigan St. at Duke highlights ACC/Big Ten Challenge

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A matchup in Durham of likely top-10 teams is the headliner of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, whose schedule was released Tuesday.

Michigan State, expected to open the season in the top-10, and Duke, the presumptive preseason No. 1, will meet Tuesday, Nov. 29, at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the most intriguing contest of the 14-game event.

The Spartans are losing Denzel Valentin, Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello, but the recruiting class of Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford and Nick Ward is one of coach Tom Izzo’s best and has Michigan State positioned as one of the Big Ten’s favorites.

Izzo’s recruiting class, though, pales in comparison to what coach Mike Krzyzewski is bringing to the Blue Devils, with Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden, Frank Jackson and Javin DeLaurier in their 2016 class, which is why, when paired with the likes of Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson and Luke Kennard, make Duke nearly everyone’s No. 1 heading into next season.

Krzyzewski is 9-1 all-time against Izzo’s Spartans.

Among the other highlights of the conference competition is Syracuse at Wisconsin (Nov. 29) Pittsburgh at Maryland (Nov. 29), Purdue at Louisville (Nov. 30) and Ohio State at Virginia (Nov. 30).  

Monday, Nov. 28

Minnesota at Florida State

Wake Forest at Northwestern

Tuesday, Nov. 29

Syracuse at Wisconsin

Michigan State at Duke

Pittsburgh at Maryland

Iowa at Notre Dame

Georgia Tech at Penn State

N.C. State at Illinois

 

Wednesday, Nov. 30

Purdue at Louisville

North Carolina at Indiana

Ohio State at Virginia

Virginia Tech at Michigan

Rutgers at Miami (Fla.)

Nebraska at Clemson