Chris Vannini of SB Nation's Michigan St. Spartans community, The Only Colors, graciously asked us to do a Q&A session with them about the big MSU-Kentucky matchup in the Champion's Classic tomorrow night.
Below, you have Chris' answers to my questions. You can find my answers to his questions here at The Only Colors.
1. What is your opinion of Kentucky's team, given that, for the most part, they've never played against a BCS-level Division I opponent?
I think I agree with Calipari when he says we're going to learn a lot about Kentucky in this game. The beauty of college basketball is that teams are willing to have high-profile nonconference games, and this Champions Classic might be the greatest gathering of teams for a nonconference set in history, with four top-five teams. Win or lose, Kentucky is going to have a good read on where it stands as a team. I don't think we can say that as much about MSU, because it's a veteran team, and we generally know what we're getting. This matchup between new and seasoned players is a fascinating one. I haven't seen much of Kentucky, but if Michigan-native James Young keeps shooting three-pointers into his own basket, that'd be nice. (But seriously, that was amazing).
2. Julius Randle has proven that he is, in fact, worthy of the hype. His speed, quickness and ballhandling combined with an NBA power forward's body make him a tough cover. Who do you think Tom Izzo will put on him? Do you expect traps or double-teams?
It will depend on if MSU is playing small or big, but I'm expecting Payne to be matched up on him, and this will be a good gauge to see whether Payne would have been smart to leave for the NBA or not. What Payne lacks in lateral quickness he makes up with length, posting a 5.6 block percentage last season If Randle is moving with the ball and Payne is defending him, Randle will have to finish at the hoop. I don't expect traps or double-teams. It's just not Izzo's style. He's going to play man-up and see how things go.
Izzo also expects to use the athletic Branden Dawson on Randle. Dawson's defense is underrated, but he'll have to bring his A-game.
3. How does Michigan St. prefer to play on offense? Will they try to play inside-out through Adreian Payne, or do they prefer to attack the lane with Appling or Valentine? Who will MSU try to run isos for?
It has been an interesting start to the year, as MSU has been shooting a ton of 3-pointers. But the reason is that teams have packed it in, so MSU is taking what it's given. Payne isn't going to be a common post-up guy like Derrick Nix was a year ago, and Matt Costello is still very limited offensively. Payne will post up from time to time, but this team is going to score with the guards and off offensive rebounds. Senior point guard Keith Appling will run the show, and he typically gets isos, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a healthy Gary Harris get some, too. When Appling drives, he's going to take it to the hoop. He's never really developed a good ability to drop it off to a big man when he takes it to the basket.
4. Kentucky is going to run the Dribble Drive Motion for most of the sets during the upcoming game. What do you know about it, and how will Michigan St. try to defend it?
Based on what I've seen, the ability to defend on the ball is extremely important, and that will be Appling's task. Izzo has called Appling one of the best on-ball defenders he's had, and he'll need to stay in front. MSU is a defense that doesn't force many turnovers, but it did have a steal rate of 12.5 percent last season, which No. 25 in the country. When Appling can stay in front, it allows the other defenders to reach in. Branden Dawson had a steal rate of 3.6 percent, while Gary Harris was at 2.8 percent, and they get a lot of steals on passes far from the basket. Appling's defense is going to be a big key for MSU in this game.
5. Michigan St. is known for their physical defense. How do you think the new interpretation of the rules will impact that against a talented opponent like Kentucky? What will the Spartans do to try to mitigate any negative impact?
It's been very interesting to see this rule. In some cases, the fouls have been super high. But MSU only committed 12 fouls in its opening win against McNeese State. Still, MSU is a team that can rack up the fouls, depending on what kind of mood the officials are in. In this game, the Spartans are going to need to avoid the reach-in fouls, especially Appling when he's defending the dribble drive. I just hope this game doesn't get marred by a crazy amount of whistles, on either side.
6. Predict the outcome.
I'll go with 73-71 MSU, but I obviously could see it go the other way. I just don't know what to expect from Kentucky, and I don't think Calipari does either. No matter the outcome, I'm pumped that the Champions Classic has been extended for another three years.
Thanks to Chris and Only The Colors for doing this with us. We wish them the best tomorrow for a good basketball game; injury free, entertaining, and memorable.