Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Sounds like enough history and talent to stock a Final Four, doesn’t it?
Yet when these four teams get together Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, it will take place in the inaugural Champions Classic — not the Final Four.
“These are some of the premier programs in all of college basketball, not only currently, but in the history of the sport,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
The four programs have advanced to 23 Final Fours in the past 20 years and won a combined total of 16 NCAA titles: Kentucky (7), Duke (4), Kansas (3) and MSU (2).
While the season has just begun, the games will feature some intriguing storylines, and several of the top players in college basketball.
First and foremost, history will be on the line in the first game when Duke plays Michigan State.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski needs one victory to move past his mentor Bob Knight as the winningest coach in Division 1 men’s basketball history. They are currently tied at 902 victories.
“I’m good about not making it that big of a thing, even though I know it’s a big thing,” Coach K said after tying the record Saturday. “I’m not minimizing it, but it really will happen (in time), and the development of my team will only happen right now. I’ve got to do that (develop his team). That’s just what you’re supposed to do.
“It’s kind of hard to believe, really.”
Michigan State, meanwhile, opened its season Friday with a 67-55 loss to No. 1 North Carolina in a game — an event, really — played aboard the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson.
Talk about a tough non-conference schedule.
The Spartans face the prospect of opening the season at 0-2 if they fall to the Blue Devils at the Garden.
The Kentucky-Kansas game will feature John Calipari matching wits against Bill Self in a coaching rematch of the 2008 NCAA title game, in which Kansas beat Calipari’s Memphis Tigers.
“I thought it was a great idea and I think it’s great playing on neutral sites,” Self said. “To come back to Madison Square Garden will be great with three other unbelievable programs. I’ll bet each of these programs will sell whatever ticket allotment they have — 4 to 5,000.”
Kentucky players Terrence Jones and Stacey Poole were the victims of a drunk-driving car accident last week, yet Jones came off the bench Friday night in a 108-58 rout of Marist and had 8 points and 9 rebounds.
Poole still has not played this season as he weighs whether or not to transfer.
The games will also feature four of the top eight players in the ESPNU Class of 2011 rankings in Kentucky’s Anthony Davis (No. 1), Duke’s Austin Rivers (No. 3), Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (No. 4) and Kentucky’s Marquis Teague (No. 8).
Gilchrist, who starred at St. Patrick, will be making a homecoming, along with sophomore guard Doron Lamb of Queens.
Kansas senior guard and St. Anthony product Tyshawn Taylor also returns home.
The event will change locations for the next years.
In 2012, Michigan State plays Kansas and Duke meets Kentucky at the Georgia Dome.
In 2013, Michigan State faces Kentucky and Duke plays Kansas at the United Center in Chicago.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.