CHICAGO — No. 1 Kansas survived an early-season scare, defeating No. 17 Kentucky 89-84 in the Champions Classic at the United Center in Chicago on Tuesday night. Here’s what you need to know:
- Kansas trailed by six points with just under 4 minutes to play but closed on a 14-3 run.
- Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson led Kansas with 27 points and 21 rebounds. It is the first 20/20 game against Kentucky in the last 25 years, according to ESPN.
- Kentucky senior guard Antonio Reeves paced the Wildcats with 24 points.
- In the earlier Champions Classic matchup, No. 9 Duke beat No. 18 Michigan State 74-65.
No. 1 Kansas comes back from a 17-point deficit to beat Kentucky in the #ChampionsClassic
◻️ 27 PTS
◻️ 21 REB pic.twitter.com/FLXx9rvGsU
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) November 15, 2023
Evaluating Hunter Dickinson’s performance
Dickinson is not going to be a popular man in a lot of places. Here at the Champions Classic, he met a chorus of boos every time he touched the ball, the ire coming not just from opposing Kentucky fans, but leftover Michigan State folks happy to chime in. One Cat fan nearly got himself ejected — and perhaps poke by a cane from an older fan sitting a few rows in front of him — after berating the Kansas big man nonstop.
He earns some of it, no doubt. Dickinson is unabashedly himself, and slightly shameless — the um, lower extremity chop shot after hitting a three at the end of the half was a choice, what with KU getting run in circles by the undermanned Cats.
Still, Dickinson is already on his way to hero status in the Sunflower state. Kentucky knew it wouldn’t have an answer for Dickinson, not with its three 7-footers unavailable. So for a while the Wildcats essentially pivoted away from him, stretching the floor and reining threes. It worked until it didn’t, until Dickinson stepped in and started snuffing rebounds and hitting putbacks, all to the tune of 27 points and 21 rebounds in Kansas’ comeback 89-84 win.
“I don’t think I ever had a 20/20 before,‘’ Dickinson said, after laughing off a question about his “big” personality.
It may not be the last. Self has not hidden the fact that he intends to build this team around Dickinson, and use him in all sorts of ways. “That’s why we’re No. 1 and they’re not,” jubilant KU players screamed as they exited the court and headed to the locker room. They weren’t talking about Dickinson, necessarily but they might as well have been.
Kansas is good because of DaJuan Harris and KJ Adams and Kevin McCullar; the Jayhawks are No. 1 because of Dickinson. “He’s not a villain,‘’ Self said with a laugh. “He catches some crap, and sometimes with good reason and sometimes not. But one thing, he doesn’t run from it.”
The scary part, though, is that neither Dickinson nor Kansas is anywhere near maxed out. Kentucky exposed plenty for Kansas to work on. The Jayhawks’ defensive rotations were ragged at best, and late more often than not. They turned the ball over 14 times and let Kentucky, whose 6-9 Tre Mitchell ranked as the biggest guy on the court, keep the rebounding battle close. Kansas won it, 45-42, but doubled Kansas up on the offensive glass, 15-8.
Which is, of course, how this should be. It is November, and though the entertainment and quality of this game felt a lot later in the year, it is way too early for any sort of final pronouncements. The beauty of college basketball is it is not college football; there is room for error and room for growth.
KU is good.
From this game, the Jayhawks will get better. — Dana O’Neil, senior college basketball writer
(Photo: Michael Hickey / Getty Images)