Well, No. 5 Kansas defeated No. 4 Duke 94-83 in the Champions Classic matchup in Chicago on Tuesday night. But the double-digit margin is not an accurate measurement of the game’s competitiveness.
Here are five observations from the matchup:
Um, Jabari Parker: As the season approached, Parker became the third member of the Big Three recruits that the college basketball world couldn’t stop talking about. Andrew Wiggins was the superstar in a class seemingly filled with studs. Randle was the top player at Kentucky, which had one of the most talented recruiting classes in college basketball history. And Parker was the elite prospect who’d lost some of the spotlight to those two.
But before Wiggins and Randle blew up, Parker was the man in the 2013 class. And if there were any doubts about the buzz that preceded his arrival, all were silenced on Tuesday. Parker was the best player on the floor. His offensive skill set is complete. He’s courageous and bold. Three defenders met him during a fast break in the first half. Parker sidestepped them all for a fancy layup. By halftime, he’d scored 19 points and grabbed five rebounds. He added three steals and a block, too. He finished with 27 points.
Among the freshmen, Wiggins might be the most talented player. And Randle probably possesses the most potential. But Parker might be the most NBA-ready player -- not just freshman -- in the country right now. So gifted. And it showed against Kansas.
What will the critics say now about Wiggins?: When he was available -- he only played nine minutes in the first half due to foul trouble -- Wiggins’ presence was felt on the floor. He wasn’t as flashy as Parker, but he was effective. He ran the floor on fast breaks. He was versatile on defense, guarding multiple players -- sometimes on the same possession. And he was an excellent decoy. When he wasn’t making plays, he was drawing extra defenders to his side of the floor and opening up the court for others.
Perry Ellis (24 points) will see a lot of one-on-one matchups this season due to Wiggins’ presence. Big men will be forced to shift at times and give Tarik Black and Joel Embiid more room to work. He’s one of those guys who actually makes his teammates better. And that’s the point Bill Self made during Big 12 media day a few weeks ago.
“But the thing about Andrew, if you really understand ball, he'll be a guy that will impact our team in ways other than scoring points because he can do a lot of different things,” Self said at the time. “And so much of what is perceived of him, if he didn't get 22 a night or whatever it is, it will be not successful. Well, that may not happen. But he can impact in ways to help us win far more so than maybe anybody I've ever coached.”
His versatility was critical throughout the game, and his fast-break dunk with 1:17 on the game clock gave Kansas a six-point lead and disqualified Parker, who picked up his fifth foul.
I don’t know who folks want Wiggins (22 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and a block) to be. Right now, however, he’s an elite college basketball player who could be a star at the next level, too. That’s obvious. And it’s much easier to see when you appreciate him for whom he is right now.
Foul trouble played a role, but don’t blame the new rules: The Jayhawks managed to keep Duke in check in the first half even though Parker was unstoppable and they were shorthanded due to foul trouble during the first 20 minutes of the game. Black, Wiggins, Wayne Selden Jr., Jamari Traylor and Embiid all had two fouls by halftime. It was a problem for Duke, too. Parker had four fouls entering the final minutes of the game. He was hesitant on defense as a result. Tyler Thornton fouled out. Rodney Hood and Rasheed Sulaimon picked up four each, too. Duke had 29 total fouls, Kansas had 24. Was it the new rules? Somewhat. But it was also the fact that players committed the same fouls they’ve been committing for years. Can’t blame the rules for that.
Kansas had versatility that Duke lacked: The early foul trouble allowed Kansas to showcase a variety of lineups that gave Duke problems. The Jayhawks can play big with Embiid and Black inside. But Wiggins is skilled enough to play power forward, and Selden can play multiple wing slots, too. A lot of teams would have crumbled with their big men facing the foul trouble that the Jayhawks’ post players had in the first half on Tuesday. But Kansas adjusted with a smaller lineup. That versatility will be a problem for any team it faces this season.
What a night : Kentucky stormed back against Michigan State in the first game. And Kansas versus Duke wasn’t decided until the final minutes. The elite freshmen lived up to the hype. The games were exciting. And the Champions Classic was a great way to kick off the 2013-14 college basketball season. Can we do this again? Tomorrow?