The Duke Blue Devils, Kansas Jayhawks, Michigan State Spartans and Kentucky Wildcats have tallied 10 NCAA Championships in the last 25 years. As such, the four schools combining to play against each other for each of the last three seasons has undoubtedly deserved the name Champions Classic.
Tomorrow night at 7:30 in Chicago’s United Center, Michigan State and Kentucky will start the last leg of the event, with hopes that the four schools will finalize its continuance for the next three seasons.
Tonight we take a look at how the two champions have intertwined throughout their long, storied histories:
- The Michigan State Spartan’s Men’s basketball program has won the National Championship twice (1979 and 2000) leading to their inclusion in the Champions Classic.
- In 1979, Earvin “Magic” Johnson carried the MSU team to a 75–64 win over Larry Bird and his Indiana State Sycamores.
- Johnson averaged 17.0 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game as a freshman, and led the Spartans to a 25–5 record, the Big Ten Conference title, and a berth in the 1978 NCAA Tournament. Johnson and the other Spartans lost in the Elite Eight to eventual national champion Kentucky.
- Kentucky, won their right to the Champions Classic by winning a total of 8 National Championships (1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996, 1998, 2012).
- Three times, 1966 1975, 1997, Kentucky has lost the National Championship. The 1966 squad (nicknamed Rupp’s Runts as no starting player on the squad was taller than 6’5) wielded one Pat Riley.
- Pat Riley, having left Kentucky in 1967 would play in the NBA between 1967-1976 before retiring to announce basketball. He turned in his microphone during the 1979-80 season after then Laker head coach, Jack McKinney, was injured during a near fatal bicycle accident and would work as an assistant to Paul Westhead.
- In the 1981 season, Magic Johnson came out to say that he wished to be traded from the Lakers. Shortly afterward, Westhead was fired and Pat Riley would be named interim and eventually permanent head coach. Johnson would go on to win four titles under Riley (1982, 1985, 1987, 1988).
There you have it, from Kentucky to Michigan State in 7 steps… but with a little Magic, I guess we could have arrived in 2.