For three of the four men’s basketball teams participating in this weekend’s Final Four, the season will conclude in much the same way it began: playing in a marquee, high-profile event in Indianapolis. Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State will come back to the city where they played in ESPN’s State Farm Champions Classic doubleheader on Nov. 18. Saturday’s Michigan State versus Duke national semifinal will be a rematch of the early-season showdown, an 81-71 Blue Devils’ victory. (The Classic was played in Bankers Life Fieldhouse; the Final Four is held in Lucas Oil Stadium.)
The three teams, plus Kansas, have played in all four of the previous Championship Classic doubleheaders and will be in Chicago for the 2015 event and New York City in 2016. ESPN’s Nick Dawson, senior director in programming, brought the concept of the Classic season tip-off to the schools after learning of their interest to create a similar early-season event.
“The idea was to increase the attention for basketball in November by opening the college basketball season with a yearly marquee event featuring four of the best programs in the country,” Dawson said. “We’re always looking at new and creative scheduling opportunities that provide additional exposure for the schools and make for an enjoyable experience for fans and viewers. The Champions Classic has achieved that and become a doubleheader fans look forward to every year.
“Other programs have expressed interest in participating in a similar structured event, but it’s not easy to replicate the model – such as finding four top programs with an open scheduling window and the ability to draw fans to a neutral site in major markets,” Dawson said. “It’s also important to preserve the distinctiveness of the Classic while maintaining a good balance of quality neutral-site nonconference games with on-campus match-ups providing the traditional college atmosphere that make the sport so unique and special.”
– Nick Dawson on the Champions Classic field’s tradition of success
The four schools have accounted for six of the 16 possible Final Four berths in the four-year history of the Classic. This will be the third Final Four appearance by Kentucky since its debut with the Wildcats capturing the National Championship over Kansas in 2012, the team they defeated in the Classic earlier in the season.
“These programs – four of the sport’s best historically, as well as currently – are in the race for conference and national titles every year, so there’s always the possibility of one, two, three, or even all four someday, reaching the Final Four,” said Dawson. “It’s hard to predict year-to-year, especially right now given the unknowns in roster turnover, but if history tells me anything it’s not to bet against at least a couple of these four schools being in Houston next spring.”