- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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We've already established that the new Champions Classic -- which pairs four national powers (Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State) in a two-game showcase at Madison Square Garden in the first week of the college hoops season -- is good for college hoops. Why? Because fans want to see good teams play other good teams as early in the season as possible. Fans want to open the hoops season with a bang. The Champions Classic accomplishes both.
This year, the Champions Classic doubleheader does something else: Adds another top-flight game to the Kansas Jayhawks' impressively difficult -- and extremely exciting -- nonconference schedule.
Kansas released its nonconference slate Sunday, and it will have a place at the top of any list of the most-difficult schedules in college hoops in 2011-12, especially among college hoops' elite. The damage begins with the Champions Classic matchup with Kentucky. A few days later, Kansas will travel to Hawaii to compete against the most loaded Maui Invitational field in recent memory, a field that includes Duke, Georgetown, Memphis, UCLA, Tennessee and Michigan. (And, of course, Chaminade. Don't overlook the Silverswords.)
It doesn't end there: On Dec. 10, the Jayhawks will welcome Ohio State -- which is set to be one of the two or three best teams in the country next season -- to Allen Fieldhouse. Then, as a tidy little reward for all that nonconference difficulty, Bill Self's team gets the privilege of playing in the Big 12, a conference that just waved farewell to two of its traditional doormats (Colorado and Nebraska, which are headed to the Pac-12 and the Big Ten, respectively) and now features a round-robin home-and-home schedule that should only stand to make the tightened conference even more challenging.
All of which is very good news for college hoops fans, who, again, like to see good teams play as other good teams as often as possible. In other words, you'll be seeing a lot of Kansas in November and December. Jayhawks fans might be a little unsure about the schedule -- the last thing any fan wants is to watch his/her reloading team pull a Michigan State and never quite recover in January, February and March -- but for the general hoops fan, the proper reaction is all excitement.