The Champions Classic is always one of the standout scouting opportunities early in the college basketball season featuring a quartet of rosters from Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State usually loaded with talent.
This year was no different with seven of our preseason top 30 players taking the floor at Madison Square Garden on opening night to offer NBA teams an early look at prospects for the 2020 NBA Draft.
Which collegians struggled and which ones stood out? From Tyrese Maxey to Devon Dotson, we take a look at the highs and lows from opening night below.
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Tyrese Maxey, Point, Kentucky
Maxey was the one true bright spot from a prospect perspective on Tuesday night. The Kentucky freshman thrust himself into the national consciousness as he displayed a refined scoring arsenal en route to a game-high 26 points.
His most impressive moment came with one minute remaining in the contest, heaving in a 3-pointer from the writing at half court well behind the line after being stiffed on his drive by Michigan State’s Aaron Henry. Maxey hit a trio of deep threes on the night to go with a bevy of floaters. He’s got touch and the ability to get to his spots thanks to a great understanding of pace and angles.
If there’s one criticism, it’s that he doesn’t always make it all the way to the rim on his drives, settling into that midrange floater game. Maxey was too low on my rankings to start the season. He already has the look of a top-five selection.
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Cassius Winston, Point, Michigan State
Winston is a pro, plain and simple. The 6-1 point guard lacks size and elite athleticism, but he makes up for those limitations with a high basketball IQ, excellent feel and a certain control of the game offensively.
While Kentucky’s rangy defense occasionally bothered the 21-year-old, Winston still managed to convert four of his five two-point attempts and get to the foul line 11 times. He’s got a nice midrange floater game to accommodate for his lack of size. Winston is a terrific floor general who can find teammates all over the floor as well.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 6, 2019
Although Tuesday was a rough shooting night for the senior — converting 1-of-7 from deep — he’s a career 42.5 percent shooter from beyond the arc and projects to be a threat there at the next level.
Defensively, Winston struggled to contain Maxey. It’s a foreshadowing of what we’ll see at the NBA level, but his offensive game is good enough to carve him out a role.
Ochai Agbaji, Wing, Kansas
Agbaji remains a difficult prospect for this evaluator. He shows NBA level athleticism as a one-footed leaper in space, including throwing down a pair of dunks on back door cuts against the Blue Devils. He also occasionally pops as an off-ball defender as evidenced by the four steals he piled up on Tuesday. The 19-year-old defended multiple positions well, which may ultimately become his calling card.
Still, something just doesn’t click. Agbaji struggles as a decision-maker — he posted two assists to five turnovers at Madison Square Garden — and looks like he projects as an inconsistent shooter despite making a pair of triples against Duke. If he’s able to tighten up his offensive game, it’s possible to imagine him sneaking into the first round, but I’m not there yet.
Tre Jones, Point, Duke
Jones spent much of last season as a projected first-rounder before deciding to return to Durham for his sophomore campaign. His best traits continued to stick out on Tuesday. Jones is a high-effort, disruptive defender who excels at putting ball pressure on opposing guards. He was a key factor in contributing to the Jayhawks’ 28 turnovers. Jones also filled up the stat sheet as a distributor with a game-high seven assists, helping to facilitate offense for a roster that badly needs it.
— Duke Basketball (@DukeMBB) November 6, 2019
The same hindrances still seem to exist with Jones, however. He finished 5-of-14 from the field, including 0-of-4 from behind the arc. The shooting mechanics don’t look much better with plenty of extra motion leading up to his release. Given his poor percentages, his willingness to launch up early clock jumpers was a bit disheartening.
Jones is a contributor to winning thanks to his passing, defense and leadership, but his jumper needs work to solidify himself as a prospect.
Matthew Hurt, Forward, Duke
The highs for Hurt in Madison Square Garden were quite high and reflect why he’s considered a first-round prospect. The freshman forward knocked down a Dirk-esque fadeaway in the midrange, drilled a stepback 3-pointer on the wing off the bounce and flashed his catch-and-shoot range that will help an NBA offense spread the floor.
The lows showed why there’s still hesitation. Hurt wasn’t consistent, finishing 4-of-12 from the field for 11 points. He struggled to finish on the interior, in particular. A baseline drive straight into the trees followed by a flailing shot attempts sticks out. He also continued to play with a lack of physicality. Hurt was a negative factor defensively and grabbed only two rebounds despite standing 6-9.
He needs to offer more than occasional shot-making to lock himself in as a first-round prospect.
Devon Dotson, Point, Kansas
Dotson, a potential All-American and first-round pick, delivered 17 points to lead all scorers in the opening contest, but seemingly failed to find a real flow on Tuesday. There were trademark moments of burst from the point guard, whose quickness has tantalized for a few years now. Dotson can get to the basket with his first step going left or right, and he’s capable of finishing through contact at the rim. It still felt underwhelming.
The sophomore didn’t control the game as expected, dishing out just one assist to six turnovers. His 3-point shot also wasn’t falling, and he turned down a few reasonably open jumpers. Dotson needs to be a consistent 3-point threat to maximize his NBA potential. Tuesday didn’t show that.
Vernon Carey Jr., Big, Duke
Carey was once considered the top prospect in this high school class. He looks quite far from it now.
The big man did knock down a pair of 3-pointers against Kansas, but they came with immense time and space to get his shot off. His ability under pressure is yet to be tested, and given the slowness of his mechanics, it’s tough to be optimistic. Carey also drilled a free throw off the backboard and bricked the rest of his shots away from the basket. Don’t buy the jump shot just yet.
Elsewhere, Carey was mostly uninspiring. He doesn’t move well in space defensively and isn’t the imposing presence his frame would suggest. Sure, he was stuck posting up against one of the largest players in college basketball in Udoka Azubuike, but even his possessions against the smaller Silvio De Sousa didn’t generate confidence.
Kahlil Whitney, Forward, Kentucky
Whitney entered the season as a projected top-30 pick in the middle of the first round. He didn’t show it on Tuesday.
Perhaps it has to do with Kentucky's lineups — he was forced into a small forward role next to a pair of bigs. Whitney’s lack of shooting and creation ability showed as he was a non-factor offensively. Luckily, the freshman did show some chops defensively, using his physical tools to be disruptive.