Michigan State (1-0, 0-0) vs. Kentucky (2-0, 0-0)
7:30 PM EST
Line: Kentucky -2.5
Series Record: Kentucky 12-9
Last Meeting: 2005 MSU 94-88 (NCAA Tournament)
Blog Representation: The Only Colors, A Sea Of Blue
The biggest game of the college basketball season is already upon us. In Tuesday's Champions Classic, fans will get to experience what will likely be one of the biggest games of the season, only it will take place in November. The #1 ranked Kentucky Wildcats will face off against the #2 ranked Michigan State Spartans. The game has received much attention in the offseason and it would be surprising to see any of the remaining non-conference games reach this kind of hype It's a battle of top notch programs when both teams appear to be primed for great years. College basketball doesn't get much better than this, especially in a regular season November game.
The two teams could not have more contrasting styles. While Kentucky has built (rebuilt?) their team on fantastic recruiting and incredibly talented freshmen, MSU has loaded its roster with experienced players. For those who don't like the "one and done" rule, this is the ultimate test of whether a "one and done" team like Kentucky can compete against an experienced and talented squad in MSU. Think about this, on Tuesday, Kentucky will start 4 freshmen and 1 sophomore while MSU will start 2 seniors, 1 junior, and two sophomores. Literally, every MSU starter will have at least as much experience as Kentucky's entire lineup coming into this year. What is astounding is that even with all that experience, Kentucky will still be considered by many to be the favorite.
Along with the clash of styles, the coaches have also clashed a bit coming into this matchup. Earlier in the year, Izzo had made some comments to students about beating Kentucky. Calipari responded pretty intelligently, using the comments to imply that Kentucky is every team's "super bowl". Clearly, this was more of a recruiting tactic, but it did ruffle a few feathers. Then last week, Calipari talked about the matchup being "unfair" because his team will likely be a lot better later in the year since Kentuckyis so young. Izzo also had a great response, telling Calipari that he should just forfeit if the game is unfair. Needless to say, both coaches probably want a win in this one.
The game itself should be a thriller. Keith Appling and Gary Harris are going to have their hands full in the backcourt dealing with 6'5" Andrew Harrison and 6'5" Aaron Harrison. Appling is a really good player, but it will be interesting to see him have to play against a really long and athletic defender. He has had issues with turnovers and with Harrison's defense, this might be a good matchup for Kentucky. Harris should be a matchup advantage for MSU as he could be one of the best players in the country. This should be a real test to see how much he's improved.
Alongside this, Branden Dawson will have the challenging task of handling James Young. This could be an important game for Young, who is a native of Michigan. Dawson didn't quite live up to expectations last season, but he appears to have improved and recovered from an earlier injury. Most would probably lean toward Young here, but Dawson is a pretty good defender that has a chance to slow him down. If MSU can win this matchup, it would go a long way towards winning the game.
Finally, Kentucky will have their hands full upfront. Their lone sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein and top freshman Julius Randle will have the challenging task of matching up with Adreian Payne and Matt Costello. How Izzo lines up these big men defensively will be interesting, but MSU has to have the advantage here. Randle is considered by many to be the best freshman in the country, but Payne is one of the most versatile big men in the nation and Costello has shown he can compete for solid minutes. Cauley-Stein is also talented, but he often struggles with fouling and probably won't be able to handle Payne down low if that matchup occurs.
This is going to be a very tight and competitive game. Every matchup is going to be a challenge and could tell just how good both of these teams are right now. Though Kentucky is getting the media hype, the Spartans may actually be the real favorite here. This will be the first time the Kentucky freshmen are expected to compete in a highly competitive contest on a national stage. Playing against Northern Kentucky is fine, but defending them will be a whole lot easier than what the Wildcats will experience Tuesday night.
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