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Basketball bluebloods primed for Champions Classic

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INDIANAPOLIS — If all goes according to plan for Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State and Kansas, this won’t be the only visit to central Indiana this season.

The four teams converge on Bankers Life Fieldhouse for Tuesday’s Champions Classic, an annual showcase that gives college basketball fans an early glimpse of the perennial powers while offering the program’s coaches a chance to measure his talent against some of the best in the country. The previous two Champions Classic events were held in Chicago (2013) and Atlanta.

Many of the stars who took the court at the United Center last November are gone.

Freshmen Julius Randle (Kentucky), Jabari Parker (Duke) and Andrew Wiggins (Kansas) left college to be drafted in the NBA lottery. Wiggins was No. 1 overall and teammate Joel Embiid went third, with Parker (second overall) and Randle (eighth) gone in the top 10.

Michigan State lost its top players — Adreian Payne and Gary Harris — from last season, too. Both were first-round draft picks. The difference for the Spartans, ranked 18th, is coach Tom Izzo did not reload with a cast of McDonald’s All-Americans. Duke and Kentucky both go eight deep in that category.

“We’ve got some Burger King All-Americans,” Izzo said.

The Spartans traditionally play one of the most difficut schedules in November and December and a perennial contenders in the Big Ten. They early measuring stick Tuesday in the first game of a doubleheader against fifth-ranked Duke might not be the draw Izzo wants.

“Duke right now is probably the best team; Kentucky is the most talented,” Izzo said. “There are probably more unknowns for Kansas and Michigan State, and not as many at Kansas as there are for us.”

Duke and Kansas again landed the top two players in the country.

Jahlil Okafor, a 6-10 center, had 19 points and six rebounds in his debut for the Devils. A preseason All-American, coach Mike Krzyzewski said last week he expects this to be Okafor’s only season on a college campus.

Another Chicago product, Cliff Alexander, will slot at power forward for Kansas. He’s 6-9, 240, but raw compared to Okafor in just his fifth full year of organized basketball.

Kentucky coach John Calipari is college basketball’s highest paid coach for a reason. He took an all-freshman lineup to the Final Four last season and has so much talent that SMU coach Larry Brown said the Wildcats’ second unit could be ranked in the Top 25.

“This is a totally different team than last year’s team, even though we have some guys back,” Calipari said Monday. “So it’s now: OK, what does this team need? What do they need from me? How do we need to play? What gives them the best chance? And by the end of the year, hopefully those questions are answered and it’s not as late as last year. Last year was, what, March 1 we answered questions?”

The 2015 Final Four will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium in April.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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