BY JOHN MARSHALL
The first weekend of the 2017-18 season, like so many before, was filled with power programs rolling overmatched teams.
There were a few closer-than-expected games, for sure, and one game between ranked teams, an 88-65 victory by No. 25 Texas A&M over No. 11 West Virginia.
For the most part, though, it was one blowout after another.
The season heats up in a hurry on Tuesday, when four of the most prominent programs in college basketball — none of them ranked lower than seventh — meet in Chicago.
The Champions Classic at the United Center kicks off with No. 1 Duke facing No. 2 Michigan State, followed by No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 7 Kentucky.
The Blue Devils were the preseason No. 1 for the second straight season and ninth time overall, matching rival North Carolina for most all-time, and held that spot in the first regular-season poll .
Duke is loaded, led by senior guard Grayson Allen and one of the nation’s best freshmen, Marvin Bagley III. The Blue Devils opened the season with a 97-88 victory over Elon and beat Utah Valley 99-69 to give coach Mike Krzyzewski his 1,000th victory with the program.
Bagley was superb in the two games, scoring 49 combined points with 20 rebounds.
It figures to get a whole lot tougher in the Windy City, where they’ll face what could be coach Tom Izzo’s most talented team.
Preseason All-American Miles Bridges is considered one of the front-runners to be national player of the year after deciding to return to Lansing and Izzo added a stellar recruiting class, led by 6-foot-11 forward Jaren Jackson. Michigan State opened the season with a 98-66 win over North Florida behind Bridges’ 20 points and 10 rebounds.
But Izzo’s teams have struggled against Coach K and the Blue Devils; Duke leads the series 10-1 since 1998.
“We’re going to try to keep playing them,” Izzo said. “We’re going to try to keep knocking on the door and sooner or later that door’s got to open.”
Kansas lost Josh Jackson and Frank Mason III from a team that won its 13th straight Big 12 title.
The Jayhawks are picked to make it 14 in a row and a potential deep run in the NCAA Tournament after coach Bill Self restocked his roster. Kansas opened the season with a 92-56 win over Tennessee State, but the talent level of their opponent goes way up on Tuesday.
“It’s always nice to see how much poise we have in a pressure situation,” Self said. “I certainly anticipate it not being pretty, but I do anticipate both teams playing hard.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari did what he always does, bringing in a class of future pros to Lexington. But these Wildcats are younger than any team Calpari’ had at Kentucky and it was evident in their first two games.
Kentucky trailed Utah Valley by 12 before pulling away for a 73-63 victory and had all it could handle in a 73-69 win over Vermont.
“I’m more concerned about how we’re playing than how Kansas plays,” Calipari said.
TOUGH NON-CONFERENCE GAMES
While there are no other games between ranked teams, a few Top 25 teams could have tough games against unranked teams.
On Wednesday, No. 20 Northwestern faces Creighton and senior guard Marcus Foster. The Wildcats, ranked in the AP preseason for the first time, will need to find a way to contain Foster, who was leading the nation in assists when he suffered a season-ending knee injury last January.
The same day, No. 22 Seton Hall should get a good test from Indiana and new coach Archie Miller.
The toughest game against an unranked opponent is Thursday, when No. 15 Xavier faces Wisconsin.
The Musketeers have one of the nation’s best guards in Trevon Bluiett, who scored 25 points in their season-opening rout of Morehead State. The Badgers are young, but are talented and opened the season with a pair of lopsided victories.
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