ESPN Events: State Farm

By the numbers: Champions Classic

November, 7, 2013
The third installment of the State Farm Champions Classic is Tuesday, with top-ranked Kentucky facing No. 2 Michigan State and No. 4 Duke meeting No. 5 Kansas on ESPN. Just how unique and special is this doubleheader at the United Center in Chicago? You tell us.

* According to ESPN research, it will be the first time that four top-five teams in The Associated Press poll will play in the same doubleheader at the same venue since the 2008 Final Four, when all four No. 1 seeds (Kansas, North Carolina, UCLA and Memphis) played in San Antonio.

* The Kentucky-Michigan State game is the first matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the AP Poll since Feb. 23, 2008 (Memphis vs. Tennessee).

* It will be the earliest matchup of the top two teams in college basketball history, besting the Indiana-UCLA game on Nov. 29, 1975.

* The two top-rated recruits in the ESPN 100 class will square off, with Kentucky’s Andrew Wiggins facing Duke’s Jabari Parker. Many predict they will be the first two players taken in June’s NBA Draft.

* In all, these schools combined to grab eight of the top 10 and 11 of the top 15 freshman recruits on the ESPN list. Kentucky’s haul, which includes No. 3 Julius Randle, No. 5 Andrew Harrison, No. 7 Dakari Johnson, No. 8 James Young, No. 9 Aaron Harrison, is widely considered the top recruiting class in history.

* The four coaches, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari of Kentucky, Bill Self of Kansas and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, have combined for 2,471 wins, 23 Final Four appearances and seven national championships.

Not a bad way to wrap up ESPN’s College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon on Tuesday, eh?

It's time for hoops already? Why, yes it is

September, 26, 2013
Remember when college basketball practice began on Oct. 15? Then when it was altered slightly and basketballs started bouncing on the Friday night closest to the 15th?

That's so 2012.

You may not know it, but college hoops is ready to start now, even before the NBA gets going. And many teams slated to play in ESPN Events' early-season tournaments will hit the floor as soon as Friday. It's all thanks to a new rule the NCAA passed this spring that makes it possible for teams this season to begin practice 42 days before their first game. It doesn't mean teams can practice more than before, but instead teams can mix in practice and off days.

Teams can practice 30 out of 42 days leading to the opening of the season, Nov. 8. That means September basketball.

"The rule creates a flexible preseason practice schedule that allows practice days and off days instead of the current schedule that leads to practice occurring every possible day," the NCAA said in a release announcing the move. "The more flexible approach provides coaches with the ability to determine how to use practice opportunities."

Coaches are handling the new schedule differently. Some like it, some don't. But nearly all teams will hit the floor this weekend. Duke, which plays Kansas in the State Farm Champions Classic on Nov. 12, begins practice Saturday under longtime coach Mike Krzyzewski. So will Butler, which plays in the Old Spice Classic Nov. 28-Dec. 1. The Bulldogs will be led by Brandon Miller, who was promoted when Brad Stevens left this summer to coach the Boston Celtics.

"I think our guys are really looking forward to it," Miller told the school's website. "Our guys have a different feel even right now, a little more pep in their step It's a great time of the year."

One thing changing this year is how Midnight Madness is handled. Schools are holding the events at different times, often coinciding with recruiting visits or football home games. It eliminates the big night of late practices to open the season in mid-October as in the past. For instance, UAB, which plays in the Charleston Classic Nov. 21-24, hosts a fan event on Oct. 4.

But the NCAA and coaches hope the early start to practice allows for more recovery time so players can avoid injury and allow schools to be better prepared for the start of the regular season. And for many teams, they will be tested early in ESPN Events' early-season tournaments.

"Coaches will make sure their players are ready and in better shape," ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale said. "It should help newcomers to the college game make the adjustment. They will be able to learn more quickly and get that hands-on work with their coaches."