What now for Duke, KU, UK, MSU?

After a big night at the Champions Classic, it's now time to look forward

Originally Published: October 7, 2013
By Eamonn Brennan | ESPN.com

Now that you've had a morning to absorb and digest every narrative and storyline from the 2013 Champions Classic -- to say nothing of the Tip-Off Marathon, which contained multitudes -- one thing should be clear: You're going to be hearing a lot about Michigan State, Kentucky, Duke and Kansas for the next few months. Oh, will you ever.

So: What did we learn? Where will each go from here?

Let's take a few only-barely-educated guesses.

Michigan State Spartans (2-0)

Next nonconference test: Dec. 4 vs. No. 12 North Carolina

Here's one obvious place the Spartans will go in the next six days: Straight to the top of the Associated Press poll. Their win over current No. 1 Kentucky on Tuesday night guarantees that placement in next Monday's new voting, not that the Spartans give a lick.

[+] EnlargeKeith Appling
David Banks/USA TODAY SportsThe numbers next to Keith Appling's name looked good -- especially the small one next to turnovers.

On Tuesday night, sophomore guard Gary Harris said Michigan State wanted to be No. 1 at the end of the season, not the beginning; Keith Appling went so far as to say Michigan State hadn't "accomplished anything." (Tom Izzo, in one of his typical postgame bits, slapped Appling on the arm: "Didn't accomplish anything? What the hell are you talking about, didn't accomplish anything?" There was much mirth.)

The backcourt duo's point is well taken, but still: The Spartans may be in that top spot for some time. Barring any surprises in the coming weeks, Michigan State should spend the rest of November unbeaten. Its biggest remaining challenge -- and yes, that includes a Dec. 21 trip to Texas -- comes on Dec. 4, when North Carolina travels to East Lansing for the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Frankly, it is hard to imagine Michigan State falling before January, when Big Ten play (and a Jan. 4 trip to Indiana) comes into the picture.

But like Tuesday night, it will not be the wins and losses that mark Michigan State's progress so much as the subtle things that happen on the floor. Izzo already has a very good and very experienced team, but he was insistent that it would improve in the months to come. How? Expect Izzo to bust out his trademark rebounding drills; the Spartans allowed Kentucky to grab 45 percent of available offensive rebounds Tuesday night. Appling's crazy line on Tuesday night -- 22 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists and 4 steals to just 3 turnovers -- may not be sustainable, but if the part about the turnovers is, look out. A turnover-averse Michigan State team is a very dangerous thing indeed.

Kentucky Wildcats (2-1)

Next nonconference tests: Dec. 1 vs. Providence, Dec. 6 vs. No. 23 Baylor (in Arlington, Texas), Dec. 14 at No. 12 North Carolina, Dec. 28 vs. No. 3 Louisville

Izzo reassured reporters multiple times that his team would get better; John Calipari needed to make no such acknowledgment. For as much as the Wildcats struggled in the first half Tuesday night -- for all the disjointed offense and disinterested defense -- they were still very much in the neighborhood of a win deep into the second half against Michigan State.

[+] EnlargeJames Young
Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY SportsJames Young hasn't quite found his way yet. Kentucky will need him to if it wants to achieve its high hopes.

Understatement alert: That bodes well. The question now is whether Kentucky will merely be a very good national title contender, or a capital-G Great one.

The answer lies with ... well, pretty much everyone not named Julius Randle. Randle is imperious; his dominance feels like a given. But Aaron and Andrew Harrison, who have struggled early both as scoring threats and as distributors, are crucial to whatever eventual offensive rhythm Kentucky finds in its dribble-drive motion. James Young -- whom Calipari boldly called the "best shooter in the country" Tuesday night -- has yet to find his stroke, and UK's other big men have provided little more than pure athleticism.

There is good news: UK has four straight home cupcakes left in November, which is plenty of time for Calipari to tighten things up. December is far more challenging, and culminates with a rivalry game against Louisville at Rupp Arena just before the New Year. You'll hear plenty about Randle & Co. in the meantime, rest assured, but Dec. 28 is a date worth marking. We'll have a much better idea of what Kentucky is -- and what it will be come March -- by then.

Kansas Jayhawks (2-0)

Next nonconference tests: Nov. 28 at Battle 4 Atlantis, Dec. 7 at Colorado, Dec. 10 at No. 11 Florida, Dec. 14 vs. 22 New Mexico, Dec. 21 vs. Georgetown, Jan. 5 vs. San Diego State

[+] EnlargeAndrew Wiggins
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesAndrew Wiggins had a big night on a big stage. Wait … are you surprised?

Breathe easily, everyone: Andrew Wiggins is indeed good at basketball.

You could almost hear the narrative forming in the United Center air Tuesday night. Duke's Jabari Parker was putting on a show, shredding Kansas' defense, nailing 3s, looking like the best pure offensive player these United States have produced since Carmelo Anthony, and remarkably similar to Anthony, at that. Wiggins, on the other hand, was nowhere. He picked up two early fouls and scored just six points on six shots in nine first-half minutes.

Wiggins finished the night with 22 points, eight rebounds and a face-melting, game-sealing dagger of a dunk. See? Really good!

Now that that matter is settled, and with a truly impressive win under their belts, the Jayhawks can turn their attentions to the most difficult nonconference schedule in the country. Their post-Champions comedown comprises Iona, Towson and Wake Forest, and then it's on to the Battle 4 Atlantis, road trips to Colorado and Florida, and the non-stop slew you see above.

That's a tough schedule for any team, but especially one with so many young players. The Jayhawks will be the most talented team on the floor at every tip the rest of the way, but they will not always be the most experienced. Plus, it remains an open question whether they can meet coach Bill Self's annual defensive expectations -- no Self-coached KU defense has finished outside the efficiency top 10 since 2005. The offense looks just fine, but it will be the defensive details -- rotations and early help and close-outs and all of the small stuff that Self sweats as well as any coach in the country -- that will take KU to Big 12 play with the fewest possible bruises.

Duke Blue Devils (1-1)

Next nonconference tests: Dec. 3 vs. No. 7 Michigan, Dec. 19 vs. No. 24 UCLA (in New York City)

[+] EnlargeJabari Parker
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDuke is going to ask a lot of Jabari Parker -- on both ends of the floor -- pretty much all season.

Today in short memory theater: Remember when Duke's personnel -- its versatile, skilled forwards, the players who would allow the Blue Devils to play stretchy, spaced-out, brilliant offensive basketball -- were an asset? It wasn't that long ago; it was Friday, after the Blue Devils' 111-point barrage against Davidson. Check that: It was Tuesday night, in the first half, when Parker was putting on a mad show on Madison Avenue. The Blue Devils were flying.

Then, one half later, much of the talk was about what Duke's personnel wasn't: Big, strong, physical, Mason Plumlee, or any combination of the above.

"I'm not to going to talk about what we don't have," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Tuesday. "I don't think a coach should ever talk about what he doesn't have. I think a coach should look at what he does have, and say, 'How can I win with what I have?'"

Or, more succinctly: "We're not going to make any trades," Coach K said.

None of Duke's players in the locker room bought the idea that either their personnel -- Parker and Rodney Hood, closer to small forwards than centers, are asked to play center -- or their style -- spread attack and secondary break -- were excuses for the defensive issues the Blue Devils suffered Tuesday night. But however you want to slice it, it is difficult to ask Parker to be his brilliant self on offense and also guard the opposing team's best big man, as he often did Tuesday night.

The next test of this theory comes later this month, when Michigan preseason All-American Mitch McGary (if healthy) will test the Blue Devils' frontcourt as much as any player they'll see this season.

Can you be an aesthetic wonder on offense and still lock down on defense? Duke thinks so. We'll find out soon enough.

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