Kentucky hoping to take advantage of Indy ties
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Kentucky is turning Indianapolis into its second home.
Last fall, the Wildcats came here to chase prized recruit Trey Lyles and eventually signed the 6-foot-11 center to a national letter-of-intent. They then returned to the Circle City in March seeking a spot in the Final Four and left with the most cherished ticket in college basketball.
On Tuesday night, the nation’s No. 1 team will be back in town for one of the early season’s premier events, the State Farm Champions Classic, and a potential precursor for another trip in April.
”This team needs to be challenged to see where we are, and this is going to be one of those kinds of games,” coach John Calipari said.
It’s going to be that kind of night.
No. 4 Duke faces No. 19 Michigan State in the opener Tuesday, before Kentucky and No. 5 Kansas meet in the nightcap – a doubleheader that will give fans a glimpse of a potential Final Four with four of college basketball’s true blue bloods. The only real difference is that these games will be played in Bankers Life Fieldhouse instead of Lucas Oil Stadium, the site of this season’s championship game.
”That setting will be a Final Four setting,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. ”All four of them are potential, along with about 20 others, of being a Final Four team so that will be a great setting for this squad to be in this early.”
Each of these programs has Final Four memories of Indy, too.
Spartans coach Tom Izzo won his only national championship here in 2000. Krzyzewski won the first and last of his four national titles in Indy, surviving Gordon Hayward’s last-second heave to beat Butler in 2010. Kentucky’s bid for back-to-back titles ended here in the 1997 title game with a loss to Arizona, and Kansas finished second to Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils in the 1991 championship game.
This time, though, Kentucky (1-0) is the overwhelming favorite.
After falling to Connecticut in last year’s title game, some coaches, such as SMU’s Larry Brown are already predicting an undefeated season for the Wildcats.
That’s not good news for Kansas coach Bill Self, who considers Brown a mentor. The Jayhawks (1-0) beat California-Santa Barbara 69-59 in Friday’s opener, and now faces what may be its biggest test all season.
”They’re long and they’re going to be hard to score against,” Self said. ”Cal is a good defensive coach and they’ve got so much length. So we need to be sure we’re really good rebounding on the defensive end ourselves.”
Michigan State (1-0) also has some things to prove after getting past Navy 64-59 in a closer-than-expected game Friday night.
But Izzo has often relied on strong non-conference schedules to help his team round into form before Big Ten play begins. And the Spartans might not face a better team than Duke (2-0) all season. The Blue Devils walloped Presbyterian 113-44 on Friday and Fairfield 109-59 on Saturday.
The effects of a big win this night can be lasting: Last year, it was the doubleheader in Chicago that convinced Jahlil Okafor to choose Duke.
Now he, Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook are trying to lead the Blue Devils back to the Final Four. The journey begins Tuesday night – in the Wildcats’ other hometown.
”It’s kind of like the NCAA tournament,” Cook said.
AP Sports Writers Gary Graves in Lexington, Kentucky, Joedy McCreary in Raleigh, North Carolina and Dave Skretta in Kansas City also contributed to this report.