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United Center doubleheader fitting tipoff to college basketball season

EAST LANSING MI - NOVEMBER 08:  Head Coach Tom Izzo looks while playing McNeese State Cowboys Jack T. BreslStudent

EAST LANSING, MI - NOVEMBER 08: Head Coach Tom Izzo looks on while playing the McNeese State Cowboys at the Jack T. Breslin Student Events Center on November 8, 2013 in East Lansing, Michigan. Michigan State won the game 98-56. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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Updated: December 13, 2013 6:22AM

And you thought the circus wasn’t coming to West Madison Street until next week.

The Kentucky-Michigan State showdown Tuesday at the United Center is the first No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup since Memphis, led by Derrick Rose and coached by John Calipari, lost to Tennessee in 2008. It’s the opening act of the State Farm Champions Classic, a mega-doubleheader that pits
No. 4 Duke against No. 5 Kansas in the nightcap.

If that Ringling Bros./Barnum & Bailey start to the college basketball season isn’t enough, Calipari, who’s now coaching Kentucky, has stirred the pot by saying it’s not fair for his young team to play a veteran squad such as Michigan State this soon.

‘‘Playing teams [like Michigan State] this early is not fair for my team,’’ Calipari said last week. ‘‘It may be fair for everybody else, but it’s no fair for my team.’’

Calipari, who collects one-and-done recruits so relentlessly that the Wildcats are annual national-championship contenders, wasn’t attracting much sympathy.

‘‘I agree,’’ Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. ‘‘I think he should forfeit. If Johnny doesn’t want to play, I’ll take the win.’’

It’s all in good fun for Izzo, who added his own high-
wire act to this Final Four-like event.

‘‘On paper, it’s probably better than 90 percent of the Final Fours,’’ Izzo said. ‘‘Take this for what it’s worth: How many times do [four of the top five] ranked teams end up playing in the Final Four? That almost never happens. There’s always a Butler or a
Wichita State.’’

There are no bracket-busters in this quartet, just chalk. That said, with no NCAA pools riding on the outcome — and no championship trophy involved — the spotlight won’t cast nearly as big of a shadow, no matter what Dickie V says.

But the State Farm Champions Classic sure is a great way to start a college basketball season. That’s why ESPN has signed up the same four schools for another three years. The event, which was played in New York and Atlanta the last two seasons, will move to Indianapolis in 2014, will return to the United Center in 2015 and will be played in New York in 2016.

‘‘There’s nothing but benefits for college basketball, for all of us,’’ Izzo said. ‘‘The beauty of it is, you get to do it. You’re going to get killed by the media and your alums if you lose. But you aren’t going to kill your chance to do what you want to do at the end of the year, like you would in football.’’

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