State Farm Champions Classic - Michigan State v Kentucky

Final thoughts from the Champions Classic


Scott Phillips and I were both in attendance on Tuesday night at the Champions Classic, and while we both wrote plenty of words off of those two games, there was a lot more to discuss that simply couldn’t fit into our stories.

So we put it all here:

Scott: After all of the hype, the Champions Classic is finally over and I’ve got to say that Tuesday night lived up to the hype and so much more, don’t you think, Rob? The crowd was fired up and lively, the freshmen played well and people were reminded of how good Michigan State really is.

I guess we’ll start with Kentucky and Michigan State since it was No. 1 vs. No. 2 and the first game of the night.

(Andrew Wiggins won the Freshmen Showcase)

I’m shocked most at two stats: Michigan State leading Kentucky in fast break points 21-2 and Kentucky outrebounding a Tom Izzo team 44-32?

What do you think those numbers mean going forward and did you have any similar eye-popping numbers that really stood out to you?

Rob: To be honest, I wasn’t all that shocked by the work that Kentucky did on the offensive glass. This team has as much front court depth as we’ve ever seen on one roster, headlined by a freak of nature in Julius Randle. Michigan State? Their biggest issue this season is that their front court behind Adreian Payne is not elite. Matt Costello and Alex Gauna are serviceable against teams that don’t have 25 lottery picks, Branden Dawson is good but undersized, and on Tuesday, Payne was in foul trouble. Do the math. It adds up.

I was surprised by the amount of fast break points Michigan State was able to get, but to me it had more to do with just how bad the Wildcats were in transition. We talked about this at the game. They weren’t hustling back, they gambled for steals, and there was no defensive balance when they were shooting long jumpers. Much of the damage the Spartans did in transition came on run outs and wide-open dunks. It wasn’t like they had the reincarnation of Magic leading the break.

One thing that you mentioned on Tuesday night that really stuck with me was just how good of a job Izzo did game-planning for Kentucky. Packed in defense, anticipating Randle’s spin move, daring Kentucky to shoot. How much of this win belongs to Izzo?

Scott: Good points regarding the rebounding and fast break numbers, Rob. Although Kentucky has more quality size and depth in the front court, it is still shocking to see an Izzo team out rebounded by double digits in any contest.

I think part of the win stems from Izzo’s game plan, part from Michigan State players stepping up and performing and part from Kentucky’s inexperience in big games.

Izzo’s early defensive game plan was fantastic and they did a nice job collapsing on Julius Randle when he got isolation or post touches and between Michigan State’s aggressive switching and Kentucky’s stagnant offensive it was a recipe for early disaster for Kentucky’s offense.

I actually thought Kentucky’s half-court defense wasn’t too bad and they showed a lot of positive signs in that department going forward if they can shore up the transition defense. Kentucky is long and athletic on the defensive end and they also limit second chance opportunities because of their rebounding prowess so they should be okay in that department.

But how about Michigan State’s players stepping up? Izzo can gameplan all he wants but Payne and Harris looked like pros in the first half and nobody in America expected Keith Appling to be the most complete guard in the game with that 22-8-8 line. Heck, even Branden Dawson was a solid x-factor rebounding, running the floor and guarding multiple positions.

Do we see more performances like that from Michigan State’s players — specifically the inconsistent Appling and Payne — or was this an anomaly?

And how do you see Kentucky’s youth growing from here?

Rob: Kentucky will only get better. I thought they were the most likely team to win a national title entering the season, and last time only affirmed that belief.

(Kentucky has the talent. Now they need the time.)

One team that I think I underrated is Kansas. The Jayhawks are going to be a problem, and the biggest reason is Perry Ellis. The dude is going to be a force on the block, and while I think he was in for a big season, I did not think he was going to be as good as he looked on Tuesday. Granted, it is just one game, I know, but if he can be a 15 ppg guy, he makes Kansas a completely different team on the offensive end of the floor, especially if his post game is truly developed and not just a result of going up against a Duke team that doesn’t have a ton on the inside.

Here’s my question: Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker were awesome vs. Kansas. Both looked like lottery picks. Jabari looked like Paul Pierce and Grant Hill had a baby, which is even more terrifying as a theoretical hooper than it would be if they actually had a child.

But I’m concerned about Duke. I thought they’d be better spreading the floor offensively, especially given the new foul rules. But Rasheed Sulaimon was no where to be found, Matt Jones and Tyler Thornton played a ton of minutes while Andre Dawkins was ducktaped to the bench. Amile Jefferson scored some points, but he couldn’t get a rebound if his life depended on it and Perry Ellis abused him like he was Yi Jianlian’s chair.

Does that say more about Duke or about Kansas?

Scott: It says more about Kansas to me. I think we both underestimated the Jayhawks heading into the game and it’s not as if I thought they weren’t talented — they’re loaded — I just didn’t feel like they’d mesh against the talent of Duke this early in the year.

Perry Ellis was a revelation last night and he’s going to be the difference of Kansas’ season going forward. Wiggins will be Wiggins and Kansas has other talent, but if Perry Ellis can get positive post touches it opens up the entire floor for Kansas.

If Ellis commands doubles, or at least the help attention of other defenders, then it opens driving lanes, spaces the floor for shooters and eases things for a freshman center like Joel Embiid.

I know Embiid only had two points and took one of the worst three-point attempts you’re likely to see all season, but he did have five (!) assists as a freshman center and still should be able to finish easy lobs and plays around the rim if defenders are drawn to Ellis. Embiid is only going to improve and so are Kansas’ other young guns.

If Wiggins and Ellis are a consistent 1-2 scoring punch with Selden and the perimeter also playing well, Kansas is going to be really tough to defend.

Which brings me to my question about Duke: Is this team ever going to be able to beat a premier post team or can the Blue Devils shore up their interior defense?

Jabari Parker was a better post defender than I thought — and he rebounds well enough to play the 4 against most teams — but isn’t it going to wear him down if he constantly has to take a beating against a bigger post player while having to create offense on the other end?

(Jabari Parker dazzles the hometown crowd)

Are you worried about Parker’s 3-for-8 second half with a few turnovers and do you think he wore down as the game went on?

Rob: I’m going to go back and rewatch the game this weekend, but I think it had less to do with wearing down than it did with Kansas saying ‘I’m sick of this dude lighting us up’. Wiggins switched on him a bit, which made for a tougher matchup as well.

Duke’s interior defense will be an issue all year long. There’s no way around it. They won’t run into a ton of teams in the ACC with a dominant low-post presence, but I think that it’s more of a red flag than we first realized, particularly when the Blue Devils play an elite team with a talented low-post option. If they switch Marshall Plumlee with one of the other Plumlees, will anyone actually notice?

The bottom-line is this: right now, Michigan State is the best, most complete team in the country. When Keith Appling plays the way he did Tuesday, and Harris and Payne live up to their potential, the Spartans are going to be tough.

But I think what Tuesday night taught us is that there are a number of teams that are no where near finished products just yet. In fact, I’d say that Kentucky, despite the loss, was the most promising. They erased a 15 point deficit to the No. 2 team in the country that had all three of their best players playing well while shooting 20-36 from the foul line, committing 17 turnovers, missing open three after open three and looking somewhat overwhelmed by the moment.

Those errors are fixable. Those problems can be solved with practice, experience and a dose of confidence.

I left Chicago feeling very good about picking Kentucky to win it all.

Labissiere scores 16 as top-ranked Kentucky beats BU 82-62

Eric Johnson, Isaiah Briscoe
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Freshman center Skal Labissiere scored 16 points to lead top-ranked Kentucky past Boston University 82-62 on Tuesday night.

The Wildcats (5-0) used a big second half to overcome Boston U. in their season debut at No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll. One day after taking over the top spot, Kentucky struggled to put away the Terriers early but outscored them 42-29 in the second half.

Labissiere finished 7 of 13 from the field and grabbed seven rebounds. Tyler Ulis added 15 points, and Alex Poythress had 14 points and 10 rebounds off the bench for his second straight double-double.

Jamal Murray scored 12 points and Isaiah Briscoe had 11. Kentucky, which spent all of last season ranked No. 1, scored 58 points in the paint and closed with a 22-9 run.

Boston University (2-3) got 15 points from John Papale. Nathan Dieudonne and Kyle Foreman scored 11 apiece.

The Wildcats raced out to a 10-0 lead 3 minutes into the game, but Boston University settled down after making its first basket and kept the score close in the first half by hitting five shots from long range.

The Terriers led 34-33 with 2 minutes remaining in the first half, but the Wildcats scored the last six points of the period to regain the lead.

Labissiere paced the Wildcats with 11 points in the first half, followed by Murray with 10.


Kentucky: The Wildcats improved to 216-28 as the top-ranked team in the country and have won 61 of their last 64 games while holding the top spot. Under coach John Calipari, Kentucky is 63-5 as the top-ranked team in the AP poll.

Boston University: The Terriers fell to 0-5 against Kentucky. … Boston University missed its first four shots and didn’t score its first basket until the 16:55 mark of the first half. … Dieudonne, a graduate of Louisville Trinity, was Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball in 2012.


Kentucky plays Friday against South Florida at the Hoophall Miami Invitational.

Boston University plays Saturday at Binghamton.

Division III William Paterson forfeits game to protest coach’s firing

William Paterson Athletics
William Paterson Athletics
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William Paterson, a Division III basketball program in New Jersey, forfeited a game on Tuesday night to protest the firing of their head coach, Jose Rebimbas.

Rebimbas, a player for the 1990 Seton Hall team that reached the national title game, had been with the program for 20 years, amassing nearly 400 wins, winning six league titles and reaching nine NCAA tournaments. He announced his firing earlier this week on FaceBook, and the players on his team responded by boycotting Tuesday night’s matchup with Ramapo.

Dylan Burns, a William Paterson student that does play-by-play for the school’s athletic teams, tweeted that the basketball players came out of the locker room for layups lines, took off their warmups, threw them in a pile on the court and walked off the floor.

The following screengrabs from instagram videos that have since been removed show the players leaving the floor:

Screengrab via Instagram

And the jerseys piled in the middle of the court:

Screengrab via Instagram

The crowd at the game can be heard cheering when it is announced that the game has been forfeited.

Rebimbas wrote the following on FaceBook over the weekend:

“It is with great sadness and extreme frustration that after today I will not be coaching the basketball team at William Paterson University. WP has been my home and family for more than 20 years and yet the University has taken action to remove me from the service I love. People I have trusted and served with have defied logic and are pursing my termination because of a misunderstanding over a facility rental fee for a camp that I run.”

“These actions come despite the University hearing officer determining that termination was not warranted. The University has unfairly and illegally taken my right to coach and mentor the student-athletes I love. I am prepared to fight the actions of William Paterson University and restore my good name and that of the program.”