CHICAGO — So where do we start this Champions Classic — Hunter Dickinson’s trash talk or Tom Izzo’s texts with Mike Krzyzewski? The Duke freshman guard who went 0-18 in four days, or the outside shooting of the offense formerly known as the Kentucky Wildcats going 2 points at a time?
The most relevant numbers Tuesday night at the United Center were obvious.
Kansas 89, Kentucky 84, so the Jayhawks remain #1.
Duke 74, Michigan State 65, which leaves the Spartans 1-2 and Izzo detecting the alarm in the air, at least in the postgame media interview room.
But many of the numbers carried messages, given the power of the competition. “That,” Kansas guard Dajuan Harris Jr. said, “was big boy basketball.” Here are some stats that indicate where these four teams stand after their annual Blueblood convention and where they could go.
For Kansas. . .
27-21. As in 27 points and 21 rebounds for Dickinson. No Jayhawk this century had put together a 20-20 game against a ranked opponent. About those voices calling him perhaps the biggest winning lottery ticket of all from the transfer portal. . . . well, here’s Exhibit A. “We need him to be a monster,” Harris said. “That’s why we got it.”
When Kentucky collapsed in the Commonwealth half trying to stop Dickinson, leaving Harris with plenty of open space to shoot, he torched the Wildcats for 23 points, including consecutive 3s that tipped the night toward the Kansas.
“I think they wanted me to beat them. They left me open and then I had to step in and shoot,” Harris said.
That’s the dilemma opponents will have with Kansas, with Dickinson a handful in the middle and the Jayhawks’ usual top-tier talent scattered around him. If Tuesday is any indication, Harris can’t stay open. Kansas’ offensive precision was on point again – 22 more assists, meaning 81 of the Jayhawks’ 105 field goals so far this season have been made with a pass. So did their championship run, erasing a 14-point second-half deficit and eliminating Kentucky’s hope in the final minutes.
Such a promising scenario is one of the main reasons why former Michigan Wolverine Dickinson chose Lawrence as his new zip code. “He said when I came here I was going to get the ball a lot. I think I did it today. So he was right about that,” Dickinson said of coach Bill Self. He also said, “You’re going to play with great players and have a chance to win a national championship.” We clearly have a good team, so I think he’s been honest so far.
“I just tried to adapt to my big personality.”
About this personality. Dickinson is a known talker on the field and does things that quickly get him hated by opposing fans. “He spoke a little like that, but it’s part of the game so it’s love.” » said Adou Thiero from Kentucky.
“Let’s call it what it is, he catches some shit. Sometimes with reason and often without reason. One thing he does is he never runs away. So I think guys like that give teams confidence,” Coach Self said.
Here and now, you can already imagine a dream Final Four matchup for next April. Kansas vs. Purdue, Dickinson vs. Zach Eddy. This could be the most violent juggernaut collision since the T-Rex took on the Gigantosaurus in Jurassic Park.
For Kentucky. . .
38. That’s how many 3-point attempts Kentucky made against Kansas, five more than a John Calipari Wildcat team had ever made. Many of them arrived early (9 of the first 20) but not so late (3 of the last 18). “We have to get better at finishing,” Calipari said. “But a young team learns that.”
The average age of Kentucky’s team is 20, which according to one report makes the Wildcats the seventh youngest team in the country. They’re fast and hustle and apparently don’t mind taking their cracks at the rim from 22 feet away.
Tenderfoots are a bit inconsistent. So here are two big freshman names in Calipari’s latest blue-chip wave — Justin Edwards and DJ Wagner — going 1-for-18 against Kansas. But the Wildcats still had a win in front of them until they missed their final seven shots. Two other newcomer children came forward on the bench. Rob Dillingham had 16 points in the first half and he and Reed Sheppard were a combined 7 of 9 from behind the arc for the game. Everything looks good in Lexington, Calipari, as the freshmen post their numbers.
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Kentucky woke up Thursday morning 62nd in the nation in 3-pointers. Three games isn’t a large sample size, but still. Something is different. Over the past six seasons, the Wildcats have finished 287th, 290th, 255th, 336th, 323rd and 340th in the nation in making 3s.
Additionally, despite the intense nature of the night, Calipari’s kids only recorded eight turnovers. That gives them just 17 for the season, suggesting early growth in balance. “To come into an environment with all the bells and whistles, and them playing the way they did, I couldn’t ask for much more. Other than making a few free throws and a shot down the stretch and winning,” Calipari said.
For the Duke. . .
Zero. That’s how many points Caleb Foster scored for the Blue Devils in the loss at Arizona, and in fact, that’s how many shots he took in 13 minutes on the court. Maybe a freshman wanking in his first real big game. All wobbles disappeared four days later, as he outscored Michigan State for 18 points, 16 in the second half.
“There will be times where you get pushed back, but the program I know from Duke, it’s all about how you respond,” coach Jon Scheyer said. “Every high school player in the country should follow what he did the last two games because that’s what it’s about, the attitude, the mindset, the work. He crushed it.
“I feel like I worked hard for this moment. It’s a moment I’ve dreamed of,” Foster said.
“Preparation is key and that showed today”
– NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) November 15, 2023
Duke is experienced, but only sort of. Led by Foster, 59 of the Blue Devils’ 75 points Tuesday were scored by freshmen or sophomores.
Another key feat was overtaking Michigan State. This could signal a growing physical presence for Duke, and the memory is fresh of the Blue Devils being completely manhandled by Tennessee last March in the NCAA tournament.
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So Duke lost to Arizona and beat Michigan State; For the first time in 24 years, the Blue Devils faced two ranked opponents in the first three games. But for a coach trying to get a quick idea of how his collection will fit together, nights like Tuesday are valuable.
“Let’s see where we are, I’ve learned more about this team in the first three games than maybe any other team I’ve played with,” Calipari said.
For the State of Michigan. . .
8 for 50. That’s Michigan State’s 3-point shooting in the first three games. And to say that Tuesday was an improvement. The Spartans were 2 for 31 after the first two games. They are 1-2 with a loss to James Madison on Tuesday, and until they start shooting better, there will be struggles.
Maybe it’s time to mention that Michigan State finished third in the country last season in 3-point percentage. Some of the main faces from that issue are gone, but Izzo is still sure he has a gang that can shoot straight because he watches them do it in practice.
“Finally, when you have wide open, wide open, wide open 3s. they had to go in and they didn’t. I’m not going to sit here and cry about this. We did a lot of good things tonight. We just didn’t make any shots,” Izzo said.
“I think we have a really good team, I really do. We didn’t play very well. We are going to play well.
Right now, Tyson Walker is in dire need of help on the offensive end. He’s shooting 54 percent, the rest of the Spartans at 36.5. He has 27 of Michigan State’s 77 field goals for the season.
James Madison’s loss highlighted the 1-2 record and Izzo seemed a little annoyed by the apocalyptic questions he was receiving Tuesday night. “The world is not over. We made progress today on some points,” he said.
He’s big on accountability, so a comment in the locker room after the game comforted him. That comes from guard AJ Hoggard who had eight assists against Duke but also missed seven of eight shots, making him 5 of 26 for the season. “I love the fact that when we walked into the locker room and the first thing AJ said was, ‘If I don’t play better you should bench me, that’s ridiculous.’ You know what? These are positive signs,” Izzo said.
There has to be more, Michigan State plays Butler on Friday and the Bulldogs have won their first three games by 39, 35 and 34 points. Arizona is coming soon too.
“We have to get better,” Izzo said, “and get better fast.”
And finally, about Izzo’s record against Duke. It’s 3:14 p.m. Unfathomable, considering how good Michigan State is. Almost all of that was against Krzyzewski, with Tuesday his first chance against Scheyer, who was 11 when Izzo coached his first Final Four team in East Lansing.
“I don’t know why,” Scheyer said of the discrepancy. “I’m not about to take credit for every game Coach K won.”
The subject was addressed by Izzo during his press session. “They beat us because they were better and they beat us because they are better trained. I have no problem saying that,” he said. But he also mentioned that 17 meetings with a non-conference team show he hasn’t ducked the Blue Devils.
“I don’t have a good answer but I play them. And guess what? After I leave this damn place, I’m going to play them again,” Izzo said.
Additionally, he has won two of the previous four. “That’s probably a better record than most people have against Duke.”
Krzyzewski had texted Izzo to tell him he would miss playing Tuesday night, as they so often did. “He said something about me being a favorite and a good guy,” Izzo said. “I said, hell yeah, anyone I beat as much as you beat me would be my favorite too.”‘
Oh, the fun these four teams have together. They will meet again next year in Atlanta. Of course, they wouldn’t mind doing it in April in Arizona.