Best Thing All CBB Season: Champions Classic

Marvin Bagley shook up the college basketball world Monday night when he announced his commitment to Duke and reclassification to the Class of 2017. Many put Bagley at the top of the Class now as the most prized recruit, over Michael Porter Jr. The move also gave Duke, who is welcoming in three McDonald’s All-Americans, an absolutely loaded ’17 recruiting class. After the Bagley news settled in, my mind jumped right to the Champions Classic; this year is going to be absolutely loaded with college talent.

While an event that features college basketball blue bloods, and four Hall of Fame coaches is sure to always draw attention, this year is different. Let’s take a look at each team as they head into the 2017-18 season.

Kansas

Kansas may have the least hype heading into the season of this quartet, but don’t be fooled, Bill Self’s team is still the favorite to win the Big 12. Self will return a good core from last year’s Elite Eight team. Yes, Frank Mason and Josh Jackson are gone. A returning cast of DeVonte Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and LeGerald Vick is a solid group to contend. The Jayhawks will also get back Udoka Azubuike, who missed most of last season with a wrist injury.

New to the Jayhawks will be freshman Billy Preston, a 6-10 forward from Oak Hill University, as well as Malik Newman. Newman was a former five-star recruit who will suit up for his first game action at Kansas after transferring from Mississippi State. If KU can pull a rabbit out of a hat and land five-star recruit Mitchell Robinson-and get him eligible- they will join the conversation as National Championship contender. For now, front court depth will remain a question mark for Rock Chalk.

Kentucky

Spoiler alert: John Calipari has another great recruiting class coming into Kentucky. The Wildcats lose a lot of pieces from last year’s team, but bring in a strong class, featuring 5 five-star recruits. Kentucky’s strengths will be at the wing and in the back court, not to say they are weak in the front court by any means. With Kevin Knox and PJ Washington, Kentucky has two elite wings who can get out on the break and finish everything around the rim. With a back court duo of Hamidou Diallo- who practiced with the team during the second half of last season- and Quade Green, Calipari has a team that will love to get up and down in transition and make highlight reel plays above the rim.

Add Nick Richards, Jarred Vanderbilt and a returning Wenyen Gabriel, and Kentucky has a group of bigs that will mainly be asked to protect that paint and own the glass, things each of them have proven capable of doing. Kentucky may have lost a lot, but in typical John Calipari fashion, he brought in a new wave of future Pros to Lexington. SEC favorites once again.

Michigan State

Similar to Kansas, Tom Izzo does not have a recruiting class coming in that compare to Kentucky and Duke’s. Also like Kansas, he has a very talented group returning with a year of experience under their belt, and a hunger for improvement. The Spartans saw a lot of ups and downs last season, with four freshman playing crucial roles. All four return for their sophomore campaigns including Miles Bridges, who was a lock to be a lottery, and likely even a top 10 pick in last Spring’s NBA draft. Also returning are Cassius Winston and Tum Tum Nairn. These two guards will be crucial for any success next season, as they will be leaned on to control the offense.

Despite the tremendous nucleus returning, Izzo still managed to bring in Jaren Jackson, ESPN’s #8 recruit in the Class of 2017. As a 6’11 stretch forward, Jackson brings versatility to a team that is already versatile. He and Bridges, two assumed lottery picks should they declare for the 2018 Draft, can play multiple spots on the floor. Giving a coach like Tom Izzo so many combinations to run is a dangerous thing come March.

Duke

Last but not least, Duke. As mentioned earlier, the Blue Devils changed the game when they landed Marvin Bagley. Coach K had already inked three of ESPN’s top seven recruits. With Bagley, they now have four of the top eight. Bagley, paired with Wendell Carter, gives Duke two Top 10 recruits joining Marques Bolden in the front court in Cameron. While depth is always a concern, all eyes will be on Bagley to carry the load and solidify their preseason #1 ranking.

The Blue Devils also landed the best possible freshman to replace Frank Jackson and Luke Kennard. Coming to Durham this season is top point guard Trevon Duval and top shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. Duval is an explosive point guard; think Dennis Smith-esque. Trent is one of the best scorers in the class. As ESPN called it, he’s a “bucket getter,” and loves the ball in his hands when his team needs to score. With him and Bagley on the floor, Duke should not have any problem finding ways to score the basketball.

This is a brief overview of four of the top teams in college basketball next season. An in-depth look could go on for pages. The Champions Classic is always stacked with NBA lottery pick talent among four high profile college basketball programs. This year however is a bit different; no team is going to be “down” from last year. When it’s all said and done, this year’s Champions Classic could produce the #1 Overall Draft pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, as well as at least 10 first round picks, most of which will be lottery picks. Get excited, college basketball is almost here.

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