The Champions Classic, a two-game, one-night November event conjured up two years ago, was pretty much always guaranteed to be a success. Indeed, it was just what the sport needed -- a big, marquee event featuring four of the game's best programs and coaches in the first week of the season, timed to remind casual fans there is more to college basketball than the gradually increasing attention spans of late February and early March.
Two years later, the Champions Classic has already been an unequivocal success. In its first year, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski broke the all-time coaching wins record against Tom Izzo and Kentucky and Kansas offered up an early preview of the national title matchup. In Year 2, the defending champs and their coach, John Calipari, met Duke in Atlanta, the site of the 2013 Final Four.
And despite those heights, Year 3 might be the best yet.
The Classic's rotating schedule creates new matchups each season, and so here's what we'll have in United Center on Nov. 12: Kentucky will play Michigan State, while Duke will play Kansas. You probably don't need me to explain why this is so exciting, but just in case you do, here goes: UK-MSU will be one of our first glimpses at the 2013-14 Kentucky Wildcats, who boast the best recruiting class in history, against a Michigan State team that returned all of its most talented players and looks primed for a Final Four run. Watching Adreian Payne and Gary Harris test their NBA readiness chops against the Harrison Twins, Julius Randle and James Young? Yes and please.
And even that game pales in comparison to what's offered in Duke-KU, which can be summed up in one phrase: Andrew Wiggins vs. Jabari Parker. This might be the only minor angle left undiscussed in Wiggins' Tuesday decision to play his one year of college ball at Kansas: It set up an early-season matchup with Parker, the No. 2 player in the class, who was No. 1 for years before Wiggins reclassified last fall.
At worst, that's a great game between two exciting teams with two brilliant young stars. At best, it's a preview of the next decade of basketball, the start of an individual rivalry not unlike the one between Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James during the 2003 NBA draft and their first few years in the league. Wiggins is often favorably (and unfairly!) compared to James; Parker's frame and game bear obvious parallels with Anthony's. The similarities are uncanny.
The Champions Classic was devised as a way to get ultra-recognizable college basketball "brands" in the same building on the same night in November. It's foolproof: With Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and Michigan State on board, you're bound to get great players and great games.
But the best part is these matchups aren't planned, no more so Coach K's historic night was planned for a mid-November date at Madison Square Garden. Whether a team is down or a national title favorite, whether Wiggins chooses Kansas or Kentucky or Florida State, the games are what they are. And in 2013, they're going to be incredible.