Michigan State had its first real test of the season on Tuesday night in the annual Champions Classic in Chicago. The event unofficially marks the tip-off of each college basketball season and features two of the biggest non-conference games of each year. On Tuesday, the Spartans faced off against the defending Big 12 champion Kansas Jayhawks.
Ultimately, the Spartans were able to overcome some first half struggles and foul trouble to pull away in the second half and move on by a final score of 79-73. It was a huge win for Michigan State and could be a sign of things to come for this season in East Lansing.
With that, let's see what we learned from the game.
What We Learned
1. Michigan State Still Looks Like A National Contender.
There's no debating that preseason projections and predictions are never perfect. After all, it seems like each year that at least one preseason top 10 team underachieves massively and one outsider ends up making some serious noise at the end of the year. However, with that noted, the preseason projections are generally pretty accurate by season's end and is pretty much all fans have to go on at this point.
Well, according to the preseason projections the Spartans scored a major, major win on Tuesday night over Kansas. Maybe the Jayhawks end up overrated and the win isn't as noteworthy in hindsight, but considering the talent on Kansas and the way the program has performed under Bill Self, it's not hard to think that Kansas will be very relevant by season's end. Kansas was perceived to be a top five team and knocking the Jayhawks down is a huge win.
Additionally, on paper, this was probably the toughest non-conference game for the Spartans and to score a win in the matchup is huge. Again, it's hard to tell the particular significance of the win just a few days into the regular season, but by just about every measure, this looks like a huge one that will be a big boost to Michigan State's seed in this year's NCAA Tournament.
2. Denzel Valentine Is A Player of the Year Candidate.
The best player on the floor Tuesday night was Denzel Valentine. Kansas got some decent performances out of Perry Ellis and Frank Mason, but were even close to performing the way Valentine played. He was absolutely on fire and was playing at an extremely high level.
Notably, the biggest thing about Valentine's game wasn't even his scoring. Of course, considering that he had 29 points on the night, that's pretty telling. His biggest boost was the fact that Valentine had 12 rebounds and 12 assists on the night. In fact, Valentine ended up finishing with a 12-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. That's absolutely insane for a point guard against an average team and Valentine just did this against Kansas.
Valentine had a lot of preseason hype and nobody was quite sure about how he would perform, but with his performance on Tuesday night, he absolutely needs to be in the Player of the Year discussion. Though it's probably a bit premature to call him the frontrunner or even a leader at this point, he needs to be in the discussion.
3. Michigan State Can Shoot The Ball.
This won't be anything new to those that followed Michigan State last year and early this season, but perhaps the most signiicant part of Michigan State's play so far this season has been the team's ability to shoot the ball. It's carried the offense and probably was the reason that the Spartans won on Tuesday night.
Overall, the Spartans shot 42.9 percent from three point range, led by true freshman Matt McQuaid going 3-for-3 and Bryn Forbes going 3-for-6 from long range. With the way today's game has shifted, being able to shoot from three is absolutely essential for a top team and Michigan State showed it can do that on Tuesday. In fact, considering that Kansas only shot 20.0 percent, it was probably the key stat of the game.
The Spartans scored a massive win on Tuesday night. As mentioned, it's hard to tell just how significant it will be moving forward, but for now, it looks like one of the most impressive win in the country so far. Along with that, considering that this might have been the toughest non-conference game of the year for Michigan State, perhaps the schedule could set up for a very impressive run over the coming months.
Now, Michigan State will move on to face Arkansas Pine Bluff at home on Friday night and in-state foe Eastern Michigan at home next Monday night.