Eight top men’s college basketball teams headline 2 big events in December


Eight of the top 13 teams in college basketball will highlight a two-night slate of marquee games from the Champions Classic and Jimmy V Men’s Classic at the start of December.

ESPN announced the details for the two nonconference events on Wednesday.

The State Farm Champions Classic is set for Dec. 1, featuring No. 9 Duke facing No. 13 Michigan State and No. 10 Kentucky playing No. 6 Kansas. The Blue Devils will host the Spartans, while Kentucky and Kansas will play at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

The Jimmy V Men’s Classic will take place on Dec. 2, with No. 12 Tennessee going against No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Baylor playing No. 8 Illinois. Both of those games will be played at Bankers Life.

“It’s great for college basketball after missing March Madness,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said.

None of the games will have fans in attendance, but the coaches are just happy to get back in action.

“It’s great for the sport,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We thought the best way to start the season would be with the biggest splash we could. When you’re limited to only nine nonconference games, the opportunity to play such high-profile games is probably not as high as it used to be. It gives the sport much-needed attention.”

“I think it’s healthy for society, I think it’s healthy for sports fans, I think it’s healthy for the game of basketball,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “What better way to do it than in the heartland of America, in Indianapolis, with so many Final Fours and great venues. It’s basketball country. You bring eight of the top teams in, the history of the coaches, history of the programs. You really start your season, you showcase your season. I’m excited we’re a part of that.”

The Jimmy V Women’s Classic will take place on Dec. 4 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut, featuring No. 5 Louisville vs. No. 3 UConn.

“ESPN Events is pleased to provide an opportunity for these high-profile programs to compete against one another in the State Farm Champions Classic and Jimmy V Classic as we continue to navigate the unique circumstances surrounding this season,” ESPN Events vice president Clint Overby said. “We look forward to safely staging these events and building the momentum for what we hope will be an exciting college basketball season.”

The Champions Classic started in 2011, with Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State playing against one another in a doubleheader every fall. It was originally scheduled to take place in Chicago but moved to Indianapolis due to the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the college basketball schedule.

“In the past, when we’ve opened the season with Michigan State or Duke or Kentucky, you’ve had exhibition games, you’ve had some way to watch at least a little bit,” Self said. “It’s happening a week later. So going into this particular game, it’ll probably be the best prepared we’ve been to play each other.”

“For us, the Champions has been a great way to kick off the season for 10 years. It’s one of the highlights of my season,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “I think it’s phenomenal. It’s a great way to kick it off … I’m just looking forward to it. And I’m looking forward to watching some of the (other games).

“That night is going to be something everyone is going to look forward to.”

The Jimmy V Classic, named for legendary college basketball coach Jim Valvano, began in 1995 and raises money and awareness for the V Foundation for Cancer Research.

“Jimmy V has been a bucket list item for me,” Drew said. “It’s such a great cause, such a great event. To be able to play in it, playing an opponent like Illinois, those are games your players get excited about, fans get excited about. I go back with Coach Underwood; I have nothing but respect for the tremendous job he’s done wherever he’s been. And with all the uncertainty that all our student-athletes have had to deal with, them having an opportunity to test themselves against the best in the nation, I thought that was really important.”

“I think it’s good that, one, we’re getting to play. Safety is the first and foremost thing. But I can tell you that our players want to play basketball,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “It’s what they do, it’s what they want to do. So I’m excited for them, excited for us, excited for the basketball world. Last season ended so abruptly. There was no finish to it. So just the fact you can bring these teams together. I’ve never been crazy about preseason predictions, and with COVID, you never know where teams will be. Everyone has had to stop and go a couple different times. But the enthusiasm overrides it all.”

Schedule for these events:

Tuesday, Dec. 1
(Champions Classic)
No. 13 Michigan State at No. 9 Duke (7:30 p.m., ESPN)
No. 10 Kentucky vs. No. 6 Kansas (9:30 p.m., ESPN)

Wednesday, Dec. 2
(Jimmy V Men’s Classic)
No. 12 Tennessee vs. No. 1 Gonzaga (7 p.m., ESPN)
No. 2 Baylor vs. No. 8 Illinois (10 p.m., ESPN)

Friday, Dec. 4
(Jimmy V Women’s Classic)
No. 5 Louisville vs. No. 3 UConn (7 p.m., ESPN)

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