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Champions Classic: Why Duke, Michigan State, Kansas and Kentucky each will (and won’t) win

For years, Jon Scheyer watched from the sidelines as Mike Krzyzewski led Duke against the premier teams in college basketball.

But Scheyer has put his stamp on Duke’s program in his second season as head coach. With a recent commitment from five-star prospect Cooper Flagg, a potential No. 1 pick in the 2025 NBA draft, the 36-year-old head coach showed he can position Duke to continue competing for more national titles. That’s significant. With an icon like Krzyzewski attached to the program, there were concerns Scheyer couldn’t escape that shadow.

Now this is beginning to look like Scheyer’s program. He has embraced the name, image and likeness (NIL) era. He’s willing to take players from the transfer portal if they can help him win. And he has leaned into the praise and the doubts he’s encountered since he succeeded one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history.

A win over Michigan State and Tom Izzo in the Champions Classic Tuesday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) would solidify this new era at Duke. Scheyer is the youngest coach in the field, which also includes Kansas‘ Bill Self and Kentucky‘s John Calipari, whose teams will square off in the nightcap (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). But Scheyer has displayed the confidence to suggest that he, too, can keep up with the best coaches in the game.

As we get set for a matchup of four of the most well-known programs in the sport, here’s why each of these coaches and their teams will — and won’t — win tonight.


7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Odds courtesy of ESPN BET: Duke (-2.5)

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2:08

Kyle Filipowski scores 25 in Duke’s season opener

Kyle Filipowski scores 25 points to help lead Duke to a 92-54 victory against Dartmouth on Monday night.

How the Blue Devils will win: With an efficient effort from their backcourt. Kyle Filipowski is a Wooden Award contender and future NBA player. We already know what he will bring: He had 25 points, 8 rebounds and 1 block in the 78-73 home loss to Arizona on Friday. In the same game, though, Jeremy Roach, Jared McCain and Tyrese Proctor combined to score 34 points on a 12-for-31 clip (5-for-14 from the 3-point line). The trio has to be better overall to beat a team like Michigan State at the Champions Classic.

How the Blue Devils will lose: By giving up baskets around the rim. In the team’s 92-54 season-opening win over Dartmouth last week, Dusan Neskovic (23 points) hurt the Blue Devils inside on multiple shots around the rim off back cuts. Days later, Oumar Ballo finished 6-for-12 (13 points) inside the arc in Arizona’s win. If the Spartans attack the rim without much of a challenge, the Blue Devils could leave Chicago with another loss.

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1:18

Tom Izzo not afraid to change starting lineup after falling to James Madison

Tom Izzo talks about what changes need to be made after Michigan State was upset at home by James Madison.

How the Spartans will win: With strong defense from Mady Sissoko against Filipowski and a return to the shooting success they had last season. Yes, 3-point ace Joey Hauser is gone, but three players who made at least 36% of their shots from beyond the arc in Big Ten play a season ago — A.J. Hoggard, Tyson Walker, Jaden Akins — have returned. Michigan State shouldn’t be as cold as it has been to start 2023-24.

How the Spartans will lose: The shots don’t fall. Last season, MSU had a 39.3% clip from the 3-point line, the No. 3 mark in America. Through its first two games of this season, Izzo’s team is just 2-for-31. With Joey Hauser on the court last season, the team connected on 41% of its 3s, per hooplens.com. Hauser’s size and range created spacing on the floor that Michigan State has seemingly lost so far this season. A continuation of the shooting drought could hurt the Spartans against Duke the way it did in their season-opening loss to James Madison.


Tuesday, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Odds courtesy of ESPN BET: Kansas (-4.5)

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1:32

Dickinson, McCullar combine for big 1st half for Kansas

Hunter Dickinson and Kevin McCullar Jr. channel their inner Splash Brothers, as they drop a combined 32 points in the first half for the Jayhawks.

How the Jayhawks will win: Kansas is playing with an offensive firepower that’s unrivaled in college basketball thus far. The presence of Hunter Dickinson (19.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 4-for-4 from 3 through two games) has created a spacing for Bill Self’s offense that makes the Jayhawks a complicated matchup for any team in America. They’ve scored 188 points combined in their first two games. They’ll face a young Kentucky team that might not be prepared for KU’s offensive attack.

How the Jayhawks will lose: They can’t handle the individual matchups they’ll see in the game. Justin Edwards, D.J. Wagner and Rob Dillingham are all projected first-round picks in the 2024 NBA draft. And when John Calipari has elite playmakers, his teams are always dangerous. Through a pair of games, UK is rated as “excellent” against man-to-man defense on Synergy Sports. The Wildcats have the edge in NBA prospects in this game, and that could be a deciding factor Tuesday night.

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0:17

D.J. Wagner gets the steal and score for Kentucky

D.J. Wagner gets the steal and score for Kentucky.

How the Wildcats will win: Because of D.J. Wagner. The five-star freshman, who spent a chunk of his high school career ranked as the No. 1 prospect in his class, will be the key against a Kansas squad anchored by veteran guard Dajuan Harris Jr., who helped the team win the 2022 national title. Wagner has to match Harris’ energy and his effort. He also has to control the pace of this game and avoid costly turnovers. The talent around him will take care of the rest.

How the Wildcats will lose: There aren’t enough big bodies to throw at Dickinson. That has to be a concern as Kentucky prepares to face the 7-footer and Wooden Award contender. By adding big men Aaron Bradshaw, Ugonna Onyenso and Zvonimir Ivisic this offseason, Calipari expected to have the size for this kind of matchup. But all three players are expected to be unavailable on Tuesday. Bradshaw and Onyenso are dealing with injuries, and Ivisic’s eligibility process is ongoing. Although 6-foot-9 West Virginia transfer Tre Mitchell will carry the load for the Wildcats in the paint, a lack of frontcourt depth could cause problems for Kentucky.

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