Originally Published: November 13, 2012

Champions Classic Brings The Drama

Dana O'Neil

ATLANTA -- This is usually the avert your eyes and hide the children part of the season, the time of year when even the most dedicated hoops fan has to admit that many of the games aren't beautiful in the eyes of the most rose-colored beholder.

Which is why Tuesday night was downright stunning. It was, in the words of longtime Philadelphia hoops observer Jack Scheuer, vvg hoops -- very, very good hoops.

Hard-fought. Intense. Not terribly sloppy. Down to the wire. If the Champions Classic, which tipped us off to the national title game last season, is giving us a taste of what college basketball is going to be this year, bring it.

This was April basketball gift wrapped five months early. The Georgia Dome is the site of this year's Final Four, but the games aren't until April. Did anyone tell the players? Because they played like their shining moment was dependent on it.

Heck, the season isn't even a week old and we already have our first controversy. At halftime, Calipari said of Duke's players, "They're flopping all over the place. In the NBA, they'd all be suspended.''

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Paul Abell/US PresswireTwo top-10 teams duked it out Tuesday in Atlanta.

Told of the comments, Mike Krzyzewski offered his trademark smirk.

"We took charges. There's a difference between a charge and a flop,'' he said. "Besides, we don't make money. We can't be fined.''

Pressed on the issue after the game, Calipari turned the flop into a flip. "I did? I don't even remember,'' he said. "It was a joke. You guys at Duke can take a joke, right?''

It probably slides down a little easier now, what with Duke getting the win and all.

But even the losers in this one -- or as the NCAA once called them, the non-winners -- can't go home with hangdog faces. Both games could have gone either way. John Calipari said the difference between his team winning and losing was a few 90-second spans when the Wildcats didn't play great.

He was right. The margin in both games was that slim.

"This was a heckuva game,'' Krzyzewski said. "To have these four teams in the Georgia Dome, the whole concept behind this has been amazing. It's why we wanted to be a part of it. This was top quality play.''

And the good news is it is only November.

The coaches, of course, preached that they had work to do. All of them. From victorious Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo to disappointed Calipari and Bill Self, they all said they were satisfied with their current product, that they saw plenty of things to work on.

It's coachspeak, but not entirely nonsensical in this case. They are only two games in. The Kentucky freshmen, on a dog-year maturation process, do need to understand that the game is 40 minutes. Chances are, Calipari will preach that.

The Jayhawks do have to help newcomers Ben McLemore and Perry Ellis, pivotal pieces to their team's process, look to score and play more aggressively.

The Spartans and the Blue Devils, too, aren't perfect. Far from it.

So that's the good news. It's November.

The better news? These games sure didn't look like it.

When Needed, Curry Comes Through For Duke

Andy Katz

ATLANTA -- Seth Curry was the last Duke player to come onto the court for a Tuesday afternoon shootaround.

He had a cameo or two on the court, but he didn't do much. Who knows how long he'll have to be a part-time practice player.

But the Blue Devils will deal. They have no choice. And if Curry continues to play the way he did Tuesday night against Kentucky, then he can take as many practice possessions off as needed.

In his team's 75-68 victory over the Wildcats at the Georgia Dome, Curry was the Duke savior with 23 points, a number of them coming during a key stretch in the second half when Mason Plumlee was saddled with four fouls.

The Curry injury is being diagnosed as some sort of leg fatigue, or shin splints.

"The biggest thing is shape-wise and coach did a good job of getting me out of the game to be fresh at the end of the ball game,'' said Curry. "I'm trying to stay sharp with limited practice time and my teammates did a good job of finding me since I haven't been around them as much as I usually am in practice. They did a good job of finding me and got me going with open shots and that was key.''

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MSU's Appling Finds His Groove In Win Over KU

Dana O'Neil

ATLANTA -- It is not exactly how you'd imagine Tom Izzo would draw it up, at least not if the Michigan State coach had access to statistics and information. Tight game, up one, under two minutes left and Keith Appling, who hit 25 percent of the 3-pointers he tried a year ago, pulling up beyond the arc. It sounds more cringe worthy than game winner.

Except Izzo, of course, has access and knowledge to the backstory. He knows how Appling spent his summer vacation, if you will. He knows about the hours the guard spent locked in the gym.

And Izzo knows about the gun. That's the funnel-like apparatus that masochistic coaches set up over the hoop, trying to force their players to improve the arc on their shot.

For Appling, the gun was, according to Michigan State assistant coach Dane Fife, set to just about the top of the ceiling.

And so when Appling pulled up, with 7-foot Jeff Withey within an arms length no less, Izzo didn't even blink.

More important, neither did Appling. The junior rose with a confidence that Reggie Miller would admire, sinking the trey and sealing a hard-fought 67-64 victory over Kansas in the Champions Classic.

"Keith is a phenomenal athlete but I think this summer he fell in love with the game again,'' Izzo said. "I'm proud of him. When you see a kid put in the work like that, it's nice to see them get the reward in a game like this.''

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After Rough Offseason, Xavier Rips Butler

Myron Medcalf

It's too soon to glean any substantial benefits from Xavier's 62-47 victory over Atlantic 10 foe Butler -- the game did not count toward their mark in conference -- with the exception of one. Given the Musketeers' turbulent offseason, one that followed a frenetic regular season in 2011-12, Tuesday's win will boost the morale of a team with a new, albeit forced, persona.

"We took a good step forward today," coach Chris Mack told ESPN.com. "It gave our guys a shot of confidence. But we know there's work to do."

Mack's program lost nearly 80 percent of its offensive production from last season. Some of those reductions were natural.

Both Tu Holloway and Kenny Frease exhausted their eligibility. Other departures, however, were less seamless. Mark Lyons abruptly transferred to Arizona. Dezmine Wells was dismissed following sexual assault allegations. A grand jury decided against pursuing charges, but he ultimately joined Mark Turgeon at Maryland.

Plus, two former assistant coaches left Mack's staff. So the team's circumstances demanded a fresh start.

And a dominating win over Butler in the Cintas Center in Cincinnati offered the Musketeers that chance to move forward from the last calendar year's mess.

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Lavin Victorious In His Return To St. John's

Kieran Darcy

NEW YORK -- Steve Lavin is back, and his young team is off to a promising start.

After missing almost all of last season while recovering from prostate cancer, Lavin officially made his return to the sideline Tuesday afternoon. And St. John's Red Storm won its regular-season opener against Detroit, 77-74 at Carnesecca Arena.

In his postgame news conference, Lavin was asked how he felt about his comeback. "I think so much of the way I feel is a result of your team and their energy, and feeding off of that synergy," Lavin said. "Similar to a parent -- if your children are lined in the right way and they seem well adjusted and they're contributing in a meaningful way, then you feel better as a parent. And as a coach, I feel good because this team found a way to get a gritty W."

It didn't look like that was going to happen in the first half after Detroit broke open a tie game with a 9-0 run and led 37-29 at intermission. St. John's still trailed 60-53 with under nine minutes remaining, when the Red Storm took over with a 14-2 run of their own to wrest control of the game.

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Temple Rides Scootie Randall To Victory

Jason King

When Scootie Randall injured his knee prior to last season, there were people who said the Temple standout would never be the same.

They were right.

Playing in his first game in more than a year, Randall hardly looked like his old self in the Owls' 80-66 victory at Kent State.

Instead, he even was better.

Randall scored a career-high 31 points on 10-of-19 shooting to propel Temple to a hard-fought road win in its first game of the season. Randall, who hadn't played in a game since March of 2011, also made four steals against a Kent State squad that was high on momentum after upsetting Drexel in overtime four days earlier.

Temple coach Fran Dunphy was asked after the game if he was surprised by Randall's breakout performance after such a long layoff.

"Not really," Dunphy told ESPN.com. "He has no fear. He's not afraid to make a mistake. He's worked really hard for this moment."

Randall, who redshirted last season after tearing the meniscus in his left knee, connected on 5 of 12 attempts from 3-point range. His biggest moment came when he swished back-to-back 3s to turn a 46-46 tie into a 52-46 Temple lead.

The Owls would never trail again.

"Coach Dunphy always says, 'To take shots, you've got to get shots,'" Randall told ESPN.com. "I was working extra hard out there to create opportunities for myself.

"The last year has been tough, but my teammates kept pushing me. They kept me involved. It felt good to be back."

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Carter Not An Unlikely Hero To Minutemen

Steve Richards

AMHERST, Mass. -- With the bulk of its key contributors back from an NIT Final Four season, the University of Massachusetts men's basketball team enters this season with more anticipation and greater expectations than it has in more than a decade.

Yet with 1:21 remaining in its season opener against a Harvard team that lost two of its mainstays during an offseason cheating scandal, the Minutemen trailed by five, their fans bracing for a letdown they've felt before in the 14 years since their last NCAA tournament appearance.

So with the game on the line in the closing seconds, UMass turned to (who else?) a kid who missed the bulk of last season with a hip injury and hadn't scored a point all game.

But to hear the Minutemen and coach Derek Kellogg tell it, having Sampson Carter hit a winning 3-pointer with one second to play to give UMass a 67-64 victory was just how they drew it up.

With game tied at 64 with 28 seconds to play, the Minutemen took possession after Chaz Williams and the UMass pressure defense forced a Harvard turnover along the sideline. Williams let the clock run down before making his move, driving the lane. As Crimson defenders converged, Williams dished the ball to an open Carter in front of the UMass bench, and Carter calmly drained the shot with 1.5 seconds to go.

"Once I saw Chaz go baseline and my man came off, I knew I was getting it because it's something we work on," Carter said. "I knew to slide to the corner."

With time winding down, Carter said he didn't have to think about whether or not to shoot.

"I heard the bench behind me saying, 'Knockdown' so I knew it was a knockdown and I was totally confident."

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A Look Back: Tip-Off Marathon Chat

From breakfast to a midnight snack, we devoured college basketball all day long during Tip-Off Marathon Live, an interactive chat involving a number of writers, TV analysts, fans and Twitter users. One hearty soul, Eamonn Brennan, was in there the entire time. Read below and re-live all the fun:


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