Ten takeaways from Tuesday night’s Champions Classic in New York:
1. When and if Duke is fully healthy, the Blue Devils should be beastly. Even without heralded freshmen Harry Giles, Marques Bolden and Jayson Tatum, Duke took Kansas down to the wire Tuesday night before losing 77-75 when Frank Mason III drained a jumper with 1.8 seconds left.
Just imagine what Mike Krzyzewski will have when his missing trio returns. Giles underwent a third knee surgery, this one a less-invasive arthroscopic surgery, before the start of drills. Tatum is recovering a from a stress sprain suffered during Duke’s pro day in front of NBA scouts. Bolden has missed the team’s first two games after suffering a leg injury in an exhibition game.
Another Duke freshman, Frank Jackson, drained a three-pointer with 15 seconds left Tuesday to tie the game at 75-75. Kansas called time with 8.2 seconds left before Mason’s game-winner.
2. Michigan State has had one double-figure scorer in two games. You knew the Spartans might struggle out of the gate. Despite signing maybe his best class as a head coach in East Lansing, Tom Izzo lost big men Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter before the start of the season. Not sure, however, Izzo knew his team would have this much trouble putting the ball in the basket.
With 21 points, Miles Bridges was Sparty’s only double figures scorer in Michigan State’s 65-63 loss to Arizona last Friday in Honolulu. In Tuesday night’s 69-48 loss to Kentucky, not a single Michigan State player made it to double figures.
The 49 points were the fewest scored by Michigan State since a 53-46 loss to Illinois on March 1, 2014.
3. Bridges said he was embarrassed for his game against Kentucky. Indeed, it was a nightmare of a game. The talented rookie, whom John Calipari tried to sign, missed nine of 11 shots and turned the ball over nine times.
Obviously frustrated by Kentucky’s sticky defense and his inability to make things happen, Bridges tried to too much, said Izzo. The result was a cold splash of reality for the Flint, Michigan native.
“I feel really embarrassed,” said Bridges, who has plenty of time and plenty of talent to atone for one bad game.
4. Kansas didn’t use travel as an excuse. Like Michigan State, the Jayhawks also played in the Armed Forces Classic in Hawaii. Bill Self’s team lost an overtime thriller there to Indiana 103-99.
Flying from Hawaii to Lawrence to New York didn’t seem to bother Kansas, which got 21 points from Mason, including 17 in the second half.
“If we’re going to travel 1,200 miles we might as well win one game,” quipped Self afterward.
5. Kentucky goes with steals over blocked shots. Past Calipari teams rarely gambled on steals because they boasted rim-protectors who could block shots. This one is a little different.
Yes, the Cats blocked eight shots on Tuesday. Bam Adebayo and Derek Willis led the way with two blocked shots. But the Cats also had eight steals. The always-active Wenyen Gabriel was the best thief, pulling off three steals. That was one reason UK outscored Michigan State 12-4 in fast break points.
In three games, Kentucky has 24 steals and 23 blocked shots.
6. New York media played up the hometown angle with Isaiah Briscoe. The Newark, New Jersey native has often said that New York is where he learned to play basketball. He said he played many times at Rucker Park in Harlem, famous for its streetball games.
In the press conference after Briscoe scored 21 points in the UK win, the local media peppered the sophomore with plenty of questions about what it was like to come back to New York? How big was it to play well in Madison Square Garden? How difficult was the decision to return to UK for a second season? All of that.
Briscoe was even asked if he had heard from Carmelo Anthony, the Knick star who was at the game. No, said Briscoe, who had basically just come off the court.
7. When Malik Monk is hot, he’s hot. The freshman from Arkansas came to UK with a reputation of being a streaky shoot, but oh what streaks. When Monk gets it going he can light it up as he proved by winning the three-point shooting contest at the McDonald’s All-American Game.
His first two college outings, however, Monk had hit just three of 12 three-point attempts. After some work with assistant Kenny Payne, who stressed that Monk needed to get lower on his shot, the freshman turned in a breakout performance Tuesday night. He made a trio of three-pointers in the game’s first seven minutes and finished seven-of-11 from behind the arc.
As Izzo pointed out later, Monk was the only UK player to make a three-point shot. The rest of the team was 0-for-10.
8. That leads us to the fact Kentucky can play better. Even after the 21-point decision, Izzo said he thought his friend Calipari probably wasn’t thrilled with the way some of his guys played, as well.
Izzo is probably right. Adebayo again found himself in foul trouble. Willis claimed just two rebounds during his 16 minutes on the floor, which was probably one reason he spent only 16 minutes on the floor. De’Aaron Fox made just three of 10 shots. The Cats were outrebounded 44-40 by the smaller Spartans.
As dominant as Kentucky appeared, there is still plenty of room to grow.
9. Coach K repeated his “face” comments. When Kentucky beat Duke at last year’s Champions Classic in Chicago, the Duke coach said of UK point guard Tyler Ulis, “I admired his presence throughout the game and his face throughout the game. It was the face of a winner and and a really good leader.”
This year, after Duke lost to Kansas on Tuesday, Coach K said of Kansas guard Frank Mason, “He has a strong face. He gives the face of a winner.”
10. A good night for college basketball. Four premiere programs, all ranked in the top 13, three ranked in the top seven. A sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden. It was a terrific night for college basketball in general.
All four teams could easily end up in the Final Four. Michigan State appears the less likely candidate now, but Izzo has a way of working his magic once March rolls around. As for the others, Tuesday night suggested all three have got the goods.