John Clay: Did Champions Classic give college basketball a Final Four preview?

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 14, 2012 

Kentucky Wildcats guard Archie Goodwin (10) went in for a dunk as Duke defeated Kentucky 75-68 in the State Farm Champions classic on Tuesday Nov.13, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

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Random notes, or leftovers from Tuesday night's Georgia Dome showdown:

The 75-68 loss to Duke was just the second time in the John Calipari Era that Kentucky was outscored in both halves.

West Virginia outscored UK in both the first half and second half in the 2010 East Regional final. WVU won the first half 28-26, then outscored the cold-shooting Cats 45-40 in the second half.

Tuesday night, Duke outscored UK 33-31 in the first half, 42-37 in the second half.

Though UK did a much better job on the defensive boards against Duke than the Cats did against Maryland, two Blue Devil put-back baskets were killers.

Both came in the five-minute stretch when Duke center Mason Plumlee sat the bench with four fouls. Both times a Duke player penetrated, drawing UK defenders who went for the blocked shot. Both times the shot-blockers altered the shot attempt.

And yet both times UK had no one in rotation to get the defensive board. Duke's Josh Hairston was able to snatch the rebound both times and score with a follow shot. The second, with 11:34 left, gave Duke a 54-42 lead.

Through its first two games, Kentucky has 25 assists and 25 turnovers.

Fitting his reputation, Seth Curry's three first-half baskets were all three-pointers. In the second half, however, Curry's four field goals were of differing natures. He scored on a drive to the circle. He scored from the right baseline. He hit a soft floater. And he made a crafty drive down the lane for a bucket.

Oh yes, playing with a bothersome shin injury, Curry was also a perfect six-for-six from the foul line.

Nerlens Noel recorded four steals Tuesday night. Consider that last year Anthony Davis had as many as four steals in just one game.

A crowd of 22,847 at the Georgia Dome may not sound like much to a basketball-crazed state, but it was quite an accomplishment for a football-based state in a professional sports town in the middle of the week.

It should also be noted that, according to a friend in the Atlanta media, the Champions Classic received little to no advance publicity because no local teams were involved in the event.

No word yet on the future of the Champions Classic after next season when the three-year contract comes to an end. UK will play Michigan State and Duke will play Kansas in the United Center.

Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski talked like a coach who wants the series to continue, saying afterward how much he enjoyed the atmosphere and format and it had lived up to what Duke was hoping it would when the Blue Devils first signed up.

If Ryan Harrow is out for a significant length of time, Archie Goodwin will be the UK point guard. He will not be the John Wall or Marquis Teague type point guard, however. His style will be more akin to the scoring style of a Brandon Knight, or, as Calipari noted on Tuesday, Tyreke Evans, who played for Calipari at Memphis.

As for Tuesday night's first game, the player to watch was Michigan State's Gary Harris. He is of the Tom Izzo tough-guy mold, but could be as skilled as a Steve Smith, the former Spartan who was watching from the front row.

Harris played much better than did Kansas' heralded recruit Perry Ellis, who picked the Jayhawks over Kentucky. Ellis will be fine in time, but Harris looks the real deal already, helping State to a 67-64 win.

Last season's Champions Classic produced two of the eventual Final Four teams, the two that played the nightcap at Madison Square Garden, then reconvened on the final night of the season in the Superdome.

Two of the four, or even more, could easily find themselves right back in Atlanta on April 6. That would be for the Final Four.

John Clay: 859-231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com.Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv.

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