Nov 23, 2011; Lahaina, HI, USA; Kansas Jayhawks coach Bill Self (left) and Duke Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski (right) shake hands before the championship game of the EA Sports Maui Invitational at the Lahaina Civic Center. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
There are no Davids to be found in this battle of Goliaths.
In the age of Cinderella stories and upsets, unlikely heroes and bracket busters, Duke and Kansas’s standing amongst the titans of the college basketball world has never wavered. With the two teams set to take over center stage at United Center tomorrow night, the headlines are colored with talks of a heavyweight fight.
On one side, we have Bill Self’s Jayhawks, who are led by freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins: the No. 1 recruit in the 2013 class and the likely No.1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
On the other side, we have Mike Krzyzewski and his always-feisty Blue Devils, who have a star recruit and future lottery pick of their own in forward Jabari Parker (making a return to his hometown of Chicago).
While most of the focus has been on the Wiggins-Parker face-off, both teams provide plenty of talent to go along with it. Duke sports one of the most freakishly-athletic frontcourts in the nation, with Parker, Rodney Hood, and Amile Jefferson all representing tough matchups. Kansas, meanwhile, will rely heavily on a combination of forward Perry Ellis, center Joel Embiid, and guard Andrew White III to support Wiggins.
Nov 8, 2013; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Jabari Parker (1) dunks in the second half against the Davidson Wildcats at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke won111-77. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 8, 2013; Lawrence, KS, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Andrew Wiggins (22) shoots a free throw during the first half of the game against the Louisiana Monroe Warhawks at Allen Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Regardless of how you feel about either team, there is no denying this has all the potential for an incredible game. Whether you want to point to the two head coaches and their combined 1,465 victories, the two programs and their combined seven national championships, the star players involved, or something as simple as the fact that this is an early season matchup between two top-five teams, all the pieces fit for a good one.
In the long run, the actual result of the game won’t have any implications on the success of either team–they’ll both get into the tournament with either a one or two seed, I am entirely confident of that–but the experience and learning curve that comes with such a high-pressure atmosphere should have quite the impact.
Hood, who hasn’t played in this big of a game since his time at Mississippi State during the 2011-12 season, will draw the defensive matchup with Wiggins, giving him a valuable learning experience that could pay dividends all throughout the season. Wiggins, on the other hand, will find comfort in knowing he’ll rarely come across a frontcourt as strong as Duke’s, and if he can succeed against them, he can probably succeed against any team in the country. The same can be said for virtually everyone involved.
Not to mention, the setting and atmosphere in United Center should serve as a trial run for what both teams will experience come the NCAA Tournament.
Yes, one team will win and one team will lose on the scoreboard; that is how it always goes. In the end, though, both teams should be and will be grateful for the opportunity and challenge that comes with such a strong early-season opponent (unlike John Calipari). Come Wednesday morning, they’ll both have a much clearer picture of where they currently stand as contenders.
As for us, well, we’re going to have a hell of a time watching them learn.