When you speak of college basketball games in December, more often than not, you think of lopsided non-conference games where the giants of college basketball schedule inferior opponents to chalk up an easy win in helps of boosting their tournament stock come March.
It isn’t often the phrase “classic” gets thrown around in December, but that’s exactly what the Kentucky vs. North Carolina game was; an instant classic.
Some of the credit should go to CBS for scheduling the CBS Sports Classic, which saw four of college basketball’s heavyweights pitted against each other on one bill just one week after the end of college football season.
The Classic was an opportunity to get sports fans to switch out of college football mode into college basketball mode well before March while the have-nots of Bowl Season battle it out on red or blue turfed football fields than can often lead to headaches or extreme squinting while watching.
The undercard of the Classic featured an impressive UCLA squad pulling away late from Ohio State and were led by Lonzo Ball who looks to be a sure fire lottery pick and has the skill set to be a 12 to 15 year NBA player.
The main event featuring Kentucky vs. North Carolina had the feel and excitement of a Mike Tyson fight in Las Vegas circa 1988 and the two opponents in this battle did not disappoint.
The two powerhouse programs traded blows back and forth for 40 minutes straight with 5-Star recruits and McDonald’s All-Americans looking to separate themselves from the pack with the eyes of a nation watching.
On a court full of future lottery picks and NBA professionals, it was the freshman from Bentonville, Arkansas, Malik Monk, whose performance mimicked a Mike Tyson flurry in his prime.
Monk finished with a game high 47 points which is a school record for most points scored by a freshman and is the most points scored by any player in a game this season.
Tar Heels junior Justin Jackson put up an impressive 34 points in response to Monk, but for every flurry North Carolina had, Monk and the Wildcats would duck and jab and respond with another huge blow of their own.
With about eight minutes to go in the game, you could see the look in the eyes of those elite young prospects that this was the moment they no longer were freshmen.
This game was the moment they had sought out during their extensive recruiting process by dozens of college programs across the country and that this was the moment the coaches had looked them in the eye and promised they would provide them during that recruiting process. It was now their time to live up to the hype and deliver on their end of the bargain.
Throughout this game, you could see each of these players grow as individuals and players under the spotlight of a CBS national game while playing against a level of competition that will serve both teams well come March. The Tar Heels proved a more than worthy opponent for the Wildcats and will no doubt have a ferocious response for UK at some point later this season.
Usually we have to wait until March to see those elite players separate themselves from the pack and show the country why everybody was talking about them.
Malik Monk did that on December 17, 2016 in what proved to be an instant classic.