Michigan States Gary Harris skies for a reboundPhoto By Darrell Walker. Michigan State freshman guard Gary Harris loses the ball during the State Farm Champions Classic at the Georgia Dome on Nov. 14

Just one week after the start of the college basketball season and following the release of early rankings by the Associated Press and USA Today, the NCAA and the Georgia Dome hosted four of the nation’s top collegiate teams, including defending champion, Kentucky, along with Kansas, Duke, Michigan State, during the 2012 State Farm Champions Classic.

The well-touted classic was not only a dry run for venue officials that will be hosting this season’s upcoming Final Four in the Dome in March, but it also gave a sneak preview into which teams might be on the billing next Spring.

But if the results of the two-game series are any indication of what’s in store this season in the NCAA based on predictions by AP and USA Today rankings, the league, participating institutions, analysts and even fans are in for a whirlwind affair.

In Game 1, No. 21 Michigan State, led by returning guard Keith Appling, upset No. 7 Kansas, and last year’s national champion Wildcats of Kentucky – currently ranked at No. 3 –were held off by No. 9 Duke in Game 2.

The Michigan State Spartans were led by returning lead scorer Keith Appling, who hit two crucial shots down the stretch, including a 3-pointer, to lift his team from a 59-54 fourth- quarter deficit.

“I wanted to make a play the best way I possibly could,” said Appling.

Appling, who finished with 19 points, two rebounds, three assists and three steals, was supported by freshman guard Gary Harris, who sparked a Spartans 8-0 run in the final period by hitting back-to-back baskets. Harris contributed 18 points when it was all said and done.

Elijah Johnson led Kansas with 16 points.

Duke Defeats Defending Champion Kentucky

After losing one of the largest groups of top-ranked seniors last season –Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Darius Miller, Marquis Teague – all of whom are now playing in the NBA – the defending NCAA champion Kentucky Wildcats were overcome by the Duke Blue Devils in a failed fourth-quarter rally, losing by seven in Game 2 of the classic.

Seth Curry, a senior guard, had an impressive performance by scoring 23 points to lead Duke.

Duke, a powerhouse of years past, is now perched in a position just past the initial rebuilding stage, while Kentucky is teetering on a mixed class, having to cultivate a group of freshmen with its remaining upperclassmen. They are both teams to watch this season.
“Veterans and talent,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Now, I wouldn’t mind having some of their guys. And I’m sure they would like to have some of our guys.”

With less than 10 minutes to play, Duke mounted a 13-3 run to gain a 58-44 advantage, only to be outplayed in the next six minutes by Kentucky with a 17-6 run of its own. The Wildcats had a chance to tie the game but missed a 3-pointer with the score at 64-61, ending their rally.

Curry then put the nail in the coffin on a driving reverse to seal the Blue Devils win.

Alex Poythress led Kentucky with 20 points, while Nerlens Noel and Goodwin added 16 apiece.

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