After a couple of weekend tuneups, the college basketball season gets serious with the latest edition of the Champions Classic in New York City. The early season showdown between Kentucky and Michigan State is a shot a much needed redemption for a couple of college basketball blue bloods who flamed out in the postseason last year.
It is rare to see a Sweet 16 without John Calipari and Tom Izzo, yet that is what happened last season. Kentucky lost in the second round to Indiana while the Spartans lost in the first round for the first year since 2006.
Tom Izzo has been a thorn in Kentucky’s side, keeping Kentucky from Final Fours in 1999 and 2005. Izzo is 5-2 versus Kentucky overall, including a 78-74 win over Calipari in 2013. That is in the past. The Spartans lost their opener to #10 Arizona 65-63 and are in danger of starting the season a very un-Izzo like 0-2. Miles
It’s time for revenge for John Calipari and company. Let’s meet the Spartans.
#11 G - JR - LOURAWLS NAIRN (5’10, 175) 5.0 PPG, 4.0 APG, 3.0 RPG
#14 G - SR - ERON HARRIS (6’3, 190) 7.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG
#20 G - SO- MATT McQUAID (6’4, 200) 9.0 PPG, 2.0 APG, 1.0 RPG
#22 G/F - FR - MILES BRIDGES (6’7, 230) 21.0 PPG, 7 RPG, 2.0 APG
#25 F - SO - KENNY GOINS (6’6, 230) 4.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG
Miles Bridge is an absolute stud and this will be a fun matchup to watch. Bridge is probably better suited to play the three, but he can finish at the four and is an electric player. Bridge is already one of the best leapers in the nation.
Eron Harris is poised for another breakout season. He averaged 17.2 at West Virginia in 2013-14 and 9.3 last year in just 20 minutes a game. He hit 43.9% of his three-pointers last year.
McQuaid is the sharpshooter on this team and he can play defense. He hit 40.9% of his three-pointers last season and 58.4% of his shots last year were of the three-point variety.
PG Lourawls Nairn is a scrappy player and does a good job of leading this team. He had an A/TO ratio of over 3.0 last year and he is a pest on defense. He hit just 37.9 of his shots last season and 18.8% of his three-pointers. He can score in bunches, but he needs to knock down some shots to justify defending sometimes. Kenny Goins was a walk-on that played well but in a limited role last year. He is a good defender but does not have a lot of offensive range away from the basket.
#44 F - FR - NICK WARD (6’8, 250) 9.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG
#1 G - FR - JOSHUA LANGFORD (6’5, 210) 5.0 PPG, 1.0 APG
#3 G - SR - ALVIN ELLIS III (6’4, 210) 3.0 PPG, 3.0 APG. 2.0 RPG
#5 G - FR - CASSIUS WINSTON (6’0, 185) 3.0 APG, 1 RPG
Joshua Langford is another five-star recruit and he will eventually find his way into the starting lineup at some point this season. Langford already has the build of an upperclassman and he can score from anywhere on the court. Nick Ward is a four-star PF and has drawn comparisons to Zach Randolph from Izzo. Winston is the PG of the future and sees the court well and will lead Sparty for a few years. Ellis can produce when he is on the court. He hit 40% of his three-pointers last year and he rarely turns the ball over.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
Granted, this is not the team that Tom Izzo and Sparty fans expected to have as if October 1. Michigan State took a huge hit to their front court with the knee injuries to Gavin Schilling and UNLV transfer Ben Carter. And for that reason, it’s going to be very hard for Sparty to compete with Kentucky. Look for Bam Adebayo and the rest of the Kentucky frontcourt to have a monster game. And this game should be decided by the frontcourt. If Schilling and Carter were available, this would be a barn burner.
I still expect this to be a close game, however. Izzo is too good of a coach and this team still plays defense too well. Michigan State outplayed #10 Arizona and lost on a last-second basket and Sparty has a lot of fight. They held Arizona to 38.5% shooting and battled the Wildcats to a 34-34 tie on the boards.
In the end, Kentucky has arguably the best backcourt in the nation. You have to wonder if the big game atmosphere will rattle them however, and if they are up to the prime time matchup. Michigan State is going to shoot a lot of three-pointers and that could be an equalizer if they start to drop. They attempted 25 treys versus Arizona so expect a similar output. In the end, Kentucky should wear the shorthanded Spartans down and will come away with a hard fought 74-64 win.