Star power, elite coaches, and star athletes.
By the time Michigan State outlasted preseason No. 1 Kentucky and Kansas pulled away late to whip Duke, there was some serious playing at 1901 West Madison Street on Chicago’s West Side.
Julius Randle nearly single-handedly dominated for the Spartans, scoring 23 of his 27 points during the second half. Tom Izzo’s squad really came out like gangbusters and appeared to be running away leading by as many as fifteen points on Gary Harris’ driving layup late in the first half.
But the Cats made the 40-25 lead nearly disappear. Within a eight minute span from 13:25 to 4:48 during the second half, the Cats turned up the pressure and got back to within one at 66-65. Branden Dawson closed the game with a couple of clutch rebounds and the Spartans won in a choppy game 78-74.
The second game featured super freshmen Jabari Parker of Duke and Andrew Wiggins of Kansas. This game was also very worthy of a Final Four, as both teams went toe-to-toe trying to see who would flinch first. Duke’s fate ended after Wiggins stepped back and hit a key jumper to give KU an 85-81 lead with 1:33 left to play, and then had a fast-break dunk as a trailing Parker picked up his fifth foul. Wiggins held his arms out and yelled after the big dunk.
Another key to Kansas outlasting Duke was getting to the free throw line, as Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk toed the line 27 of 35 times, while Duke went only 28 times to the charity stripe hitting only 16 of those attempts. That was the difference in the game. Perry Ellis finished with 24 points and Wayne Selden had 15 for the Jayhawks. Wiggins also had eight rebounds despite battling foul trouble for much of the contest. Duke’s Jabari Parker had a solid effort in his first collegiate game, compiling 27 points and 9 rebounds in a losing cause. Citing after the game his lack of “experience”, once he learns how to master faster defenses with and without the ball, he may someday pass the marks established during the early 1990’s tenure of Bobby Hurley.
Bottom line, these teams already have been tabbed by Sports Illustrated and Playboy as definite Final Four worthy material. Remember, also don’t count out Butler, VCU, and Wichita State–who seem to not be losing a beat after the sixth annual Tip-Off Marathon which lasted nearly 30 hours long on the ESPN family of networks.
See you all next week, as the in-season tournaments draw ever so closer.