On Tuesday evening, Michigan State tipped off in the annual Champions Classic against a loaded Kentucky squad with hopes of turning the page on the team’s opening night loss. It was billed as a marquee matchup among two of the nation’s best programs that could offer a preview of the months to come.
Unfortunately, that’s not quite how things went.
While Michigan State kept things tight for the first 10 minutes of the game, Isaiah Briscoe and Malik Monk pushed Kentucky ahead by a 34-26 score at halftime and built on that going forward. Things got out of hand late and Kentucky pulled away to a 69-48 win over the Spartans.
Let's see what we learned from the game.
What We Learned
1. Michigan State’s Defense Needs Work.
While Michigan State had its struggles on the offensive end of the floor, it was the defensive end where things really came apart. The Spartans had major trouble defending screens and switching on the perimeter, which led to plenty of easy scoring opportunities for Kentucky, including a few when Michigan State was still in the game.
The biggest issues came from the backcourt. Players like Eron Harris, Matt McQuaid, and Cassius Winston struggled defending on the perimeter and Isaiah Briscoe and Malik Monk feasted on those mistakes. Michigan State doesn’t need to be an elite defensive team to win most of its games, but it has to be at least decent and it was far from that on Tuesday night.
2. Miles Bridges Can’t Dominate A Game Just Yet.
Perhaps no storyline got more attention heading into this game than the one surrounding Michigan State freshman Miles Bridges. It’s well known that Kentucky and Michigan State were some of the final options in his recruitment and fans were interested to see how he performed against one of his “runner-up” schools.
Unfortunately for Spartan fans, Bridges came up pretty small in this game. Although he did have 12 rebounds, he only scored six points, went 2-for-11 from the field, and had a horrendous nine turnovers. Bridges may very well be Michigan State’s best player, but he still has a lot of room to grow before he can dominate games of this magnitude.
3. Michigan State Needs To Find Its Shooting Stroke.
Although Tom Izzo’s teams have historically been known for their defense and rebounding, that hasn’t been the case over the last few years. Michigan State developed into a great offensive team and feasted on three-point shooting from players like Bryn Forbes and Denzel Valentine.
However, that trend didn’t continue on Tuesday, as Michigan State shot an underwhelming 19.2 percent from outside the arc. No Spartan scored multiple three-point field goals and the team’s starting lineup combined to shoot an abysmal 2-for-13 (15.4 percent) against the Wildcats.
Any team is going to expect an off night or two from downtown, but Michigan State literally had no long range shooting against Kentucky. The team will have to hope that it can reverse this trend over the next few weeks.
Michigan State was hoping to rebound from its tough loss to Arizona on Friday night and score a big win over Kentucky, but instead, only got more questions about itself heading forward. The Spartans still have plenty ahead, but unless they can improve in some key areas, it could be a long few months in East Lansing.