ESPN should replace Michigan State with Villanova in the Champions Classic

Villanova has a better basketball program that Michigan State. This is not an opinion. It's a fact. The Wildcats have won more national titles and program wins than the Spartans.


The return of college basketball tonight is official. Madison Square Garden's early-season crown jewel will be returning to the arena, and four of the biggest brands in the sport will take to the court: Kentucky, Kansas and Michigan State. A quick glance at the numbers will make it clear why the three winningest teams in college basketball history are playing in an event that doesn't have a fourth team in the Top 25 for all-time wins.

MSU is in the wrong

Tom Izzo's team will take the court against Kansas tonight. This is not surprising considering their past performance in this tournament. MSU has been unranked in the Champions Classic since 2011, when it was first launched. It happened twice this season, 2011 and 2012. Each year, the four-team event takes place across the country. Each team plays one of its three competitors every three years.

Duke is leading the pack with a record of 6-4 in the Champions Classic. Kentucky and Kansas are split at 5-5. At 4-6, the Spartans are only losing program.

The four Final Four teams have made 57 appearances since 1939. Michigan State is the worst with 10. The four teams have won 18 national championships together in the same time period. Guess who is last in this category? Michigan State. They have only two wins, their latest being 21 years ago.

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Are you a "champion" in an event and are not able to provide tangible evidence that makes someone a champion?


Villanova's case:

Exhibit A: They have won three NCAA Tournament titles, one more than Michigan State and it ties them to Kansas.


Exhibit B. They have been very successful lately, winning 2 titles since 2016.

Exhibit C. Their coach is also in the Hall of Fame.

The problem with the Champions Classic is that each team represents a different conference. Duke holds the ACC, with 15 titles won, while Kentucky holds the SEC title, which boasts 11. It's a constantly changing conference that makes things difficult for Kansas. They are still "Kansas" and the man who invented basketball was their coach. The Big Ten holds 10 titles but has won only four of them since 1980. The Pac 12 has 15 titles, but these numbers are distorted by UCLA having 11 and the conference not winning one since Arizona 1997. Then there's Big East. This conference was a giant in the '80s, '90s and won six titles between 2000 and 2013.


Villanova is a worthy representative of the Big East, particularly since Villanova has won more national titles in the past six years than Michigan State in the last 42.

What are the reasons other programs don’t meet these criteria?

Gonzaga: A remarkable program that transformed itself from a Pacific Northwest mid-major to a preseason powerhouse. For the second consecutive year, they were the No. 1 team. However, it's impossible to place a team in Champions Classic that has never won it all.


North Carolina: This is a one-conference bid tournament so organizers were happy to choose Duke over UNC. It's just too much to have UNC and Duke potentially playing four times in a single season, given their two annual matchups. As deserving as Tar Heels are to be in this event, they also participate in the CBS Sports Classic, which features Kentucky, UCLA and other bluebloods.

Michigan: Juwan Howard is the Wolverines' star, but they aren't quite ready to move up to the next level. Michigan's Fab Five era is still the most successful in its history. Even though Michigan has been in two national championship games since 2013, the nets haven't dropped since 1989.


Indiana: The Bobby Knight era is over. The Hoosiers remain ingrained in college basketball's DNA, but it has been a while since they won a title. It was 1987. Since 2016, they have not made it to the NCAA Tournament.

UCLA: UCLA was a missed chance to potentially play for and win a national championship last year. After Gonzaga's buzzer beater sent them packing in overtime, the Final Four saw UCLA lose out. The program hasn’t won a title in 15 years, meaning that no one on the roster was born since 1995.


Florida: Florida would be 10 years ago if this was the case. The Gators were just coming off back-to-back national titles (2006) and 2007, and a Final Four (2014). Florida has had to exit the tournament in the second round the most frequently lately, with the exception of an Elite Eight appearance. They will also be playing in the SEC, and Kentucky is guaranteed a bid for the Champions Classic.

UConn: UConn has four national championships, which is more than Villanova or Kansas. The Huskies have not had a good year since 2014, when they won their last title. Their seven-year-old run in the American Athletic Conference was ended by the ugly fallout. A second-round exit at the 2016 tournament is their best performance in postseason since then.


The Champions Classic could benefit from some fresh blood and intrigue. They'll never be boring thanks to John Calipari's huge fanbase and Kentucky's. Kansas has stood the test of time and will continue to do so. Jon Scheyer will take over as Coach K, making Duke even more interesting. People will tune in to watch if Scheyer succeeds or fails. Michigan State's claim of fame under Izzo has been their March turn-on. What value does this bring to an event that takes place in November, when programs are notoriously slow to get off to a good start?

It's high time ESPN called Villanova Wildcats.