United Center in Chicago was the site of the first big NCAA men's basketball event of the 2023/24 season.
Two games featuring four Top 25 teams were as good as advertised Tuesday night. No. 9 Duke held off 18th-ranked Michigan State in the opener, 74-65, while top-ranked Kansas rallied from a 14-point deficit in the second half to knock off No. 17 Kentucky in the nightcap.
Player-of-the-Year candidates were on display in both games. Last year's ACC Freshman of the Year and ACC Tournament MVP Kyle Filipowksi helped lead Duke in its victory.
Tyson Walker led the Spartans in scoring in the losing effort. Hunter Dickinson had a monster night in just his third game in a Kansas uniform, and Antonio Reeves was a major factor in the Wildcats taking a double-digit lead at the break.
Below are recaps of both Champions Classic contests.
Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson had already established his place inside for the top-ranked Jayhawks.
After two games, he was averaging 19.5 points and eight rebounds. But Dickinson showed why he is both a Big 12 and National Player-of-the-Year candidate, scoring 27 points and grabbing 21 rebounds in Kansas' come-from-behind, 89-84 victory over No. 17 Kentucky.
Kevin McCullar Jr recorded just the third triple-double in Kansas history with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists as the 3-0 Jayhawks overcame a 14-point second half deficit before closing the game on an 11-1 run to stay undefeated.
Dajuan Harris added 23 points and seven assists and K.J. Adams scored 16 points for Kansas, which faces Chaminade next in their Maui Invitational opener next week.
The Wildcats, coming off a 22-win season that saw them lose in the NCAA Tournament's second round, wanted to gauge where they were with head coach John Calipari's typical roster of transfers and a heralded recruiting class to go with a handful of veterans.
He was not disappointed, at least during the first half. Kentucky, now 2-1, led by 12 at the break as freshman Rob Dillingham scored 16 of his 18 points in the opening frame.
Antonio Reeves led the Wildcats with 24 points and added eight rebounds, but he shot just 3-for-17 from three-point range.
Adou Thiero had 16 points and 13 rebounds, Reed Sheppard added 13 points and Tre Mitchell contributed eight points and six rebounds.
After pushing the top-ranked Jayhawks to the limit, Kentucky has a comparatively lighter schedule the next two weeks before hosting No. 12 Miami at the end of the month.
Calipari will want to see his group share the ball more between now and then. The Wildcats' 14 assists were less than the 17 that Kansas' top two assisters, Dajuan Harris Jr. and Kevin McCullar Jr., combined to dish out.
Duke freshman Caleb Foster went scoreless in a 78-73 loss to Arizona Friday night. And he only had two points in the first half Tuesday night's Champions Classic opener against No. 18 Michigan State in Chicago.
But the freshman gave a hint of what he was made of in the second half, scoring 16 of his team-high 18 points as the ninth-ranked Blue Devils rebounded with the big win.
Foster shot 7-of-8 from the field, including 4-of-5 from behind the three-point line, with almost all of his damage done in the second 20 minutes.
Duke jumped out to an 11-point lead at the half and never relinquished that advantage. Preseason All-American Kyle Filipowski, who had 25 points in each of Duke's first two games, finished with 15 points and eight rebounds.
Tyrese Proctor had 13 points, six rebounds and six assists and Mark Mitchell had 13 points and four rebounds for Duke, which improved to 2-1 and now has Patriot League foe Bucknell at home Friday night.
For Michigan State, it is two losses in the first three games, and the Spartans, after starting the season ranked fourth, could be out of the Top 25 altogether next week.
Tyson Walker led Michigan State with 22 points, followed by Malik Hall with 18 points, A.J. Hoggard with eight assists and Jaden Akins with 11 points and eight assists. Coach Tom Izzo never schedules lights, and the team faces No. 3 Arizona out in California next week.
There really shouldn't be much hand-wringing in East Lansing, however. Izzo almost always has the Spartans primed once the postseason comes.
Michigan State has made the NCAA Tournament 25 straight times, good for the third best streak of all time. It's likely that Izzo and Co. will extend that streak to 26.