Tuesday night's Champions Classic in Chicago will feature four of college basketball's elite programs, and four of the top five teams in the AP Top 25. The two matchups will showcase some of the nation's best returning players, as well as some of its most highly touted freshmen.
I've drawn up scouting reports on every team, the way I would if I were coaching against these teams, and included keys to the game for each matchup.
Here is my breakdown of the No. 5 Kansas Jayhawks versus the No. 4 Duke Blue Devils (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). You can also check out my in-depth look at No. 2 Michigan State Spartans versus No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Scouting the Jayhawks
Kansas will have seven first-year players in its rotation this season, a big contrast to last season's veteran-laden squad. The challenge to coaching such a young team is getting everyone to compete and play hard. That's why, while everyone is talking about Andrew Wiggins and the freshman class, I feel the key to Kansas' success will be getting consistent play out of junior point guard Naadir Tharpe and sophomore forward Perry Ellis. The gifted freshmen need someone to learn from about what it takes to be successful at the highest level.
Tharpe needs to embrace the role of leader, play-starter and playmaker. He needs to manage the game, read advantage-disadvantage situations and keep the young Jayhawks organized. He cannot let pressure speed him up. Ellis, meanwhile, started last season as a tentative talent, but ended the season as a confident and consistent frontcourt scorer. He has excellent footwork and feel, but needs to bring it every night if the Jayhawks are to be in the national championship conversation.
The thing that makes Wiggins so special is that he has an explosive first step and a quick second bounce. He is a freakish athlete who is still learning how to play facing the defense and compete on every play. He has the potential to be an elite defender.
Wayne Selden Jr. is as physically mature and competitive as any freshman in the country. A physical defender, Selden can defend multiple positions. On offense, he is a hard-driving guard who can play through contact and finish, and he's an excellent ball handler who can help out Tharpe when there's pressure.
Freshman Joel Embiid has the potential to become the best frontcourt player to ever play for Bill Self. He has a rare combination of size, length and quickness, and although he is a developing offensive talent, he is already an accomplished defender. With the new rules in place this season, he will be a valuable rim protector. Graduate transfer Tarik Black gives Self a mature, experienced, functional inside player. He will complement Ellis and Embiid.
Scouting the Blue Devils
Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker are two of the most versatile players in college basketball, on both sides of the ball. On offense, both 6-foot-8 players can score off the dribble or on the block, and depending upon the matchups, I expect Mike Krzyzewski to use them similarly to how he used LeBron James in the Olympics. I would not be at all surprised to see Parker play some 5, with Hood at the 4 at times. This would put tremendous pressure on the defense, but also disrupt opposing offenses, as well, given the players' ability to switch and defend positions 1 through 5.
Heading into 2012-13 the point guard position was a big question mark for Duke, but Quinn Cook emerged as a solid floor leader. He made excellent decisions in transition and in the half court, and was at his best at the end of games. Cook has a toughness and confidence about him that serves him (and the Blue Devils) well. Sharing the point guard duties is Tyler Thornton, a hard-nosed, on-ball defender who makes up with intangibles what he lacks in offensive skills.
I expect Rasheed Sulaimon to excel in the open Duke offense this season. He runs the floor hard, and can get to the basket off the bounce. He is an excellent on- and off-ball defender, with the size and strength to guard multiple positions. Backing him up -- and playing alongside him at times -- will be Matt Jones. The early reports on Jones are that he has the toughness and athletic ability to be a special player. He has shown a complete game since arriving in Durham, and could develop into an elite defender.
Amile Jefferson is poised to have a breakout season. He added strength during the offseason, which will enable him to finish in traffic and be a more effective low-post defender. Jefferson has the quickness to defend multiple positions, which will enable Duke to switch on ball screens. Josh Hairston gives Duke a physical low-post defender who isn't afraid to bang down low.
Keys to the game
• Can the Kansas backcourt hold up against Duke's pressure? Tharpe and Selden will need to take good care of the ball and make good decisions against Duke's active ball pressure and denial on the wings.
• Can Duke defend the post and defensive rebound against the big, physical Kansas frontcourt? The Jayhawks will have the clear size and strength advantage over the Blue Devils, especially if Duke goes with a smaller lineup, like the one I described above.
• While this game is about more than Parker versus Wiggins, it will be fun to watch those two star freshmen go head-to-head.