Madison Square Garden, a Tom Izzo-coached Michigan State Spartan team, three freshman starters and your first game against a legit opponent at a neutral site. The Kentucky Wildcats were up against it in New York last night, but Cats, young and old, all responded with what was a dominating win.
While the win was dominating, there was most definitely some Good, Bad and Ugly last night. Want to start with the good news first? Thought so.
Good: Malik Monk and the defense.
This kid is a star. I mean an absolute star. Streaky? Yes, but I'll take streaky over sometimey. The big question most had about this team was outside shooting. We know Willis can shoot and Mulder has looked good leading into this year, but the question was where will the outside shooting come from this year. Monk answered that question early and often.
Monk finished the first half with 14 points, including four for eight from three. He fell in love with the three and according to Cal took a couple bad shots, but overall he was DANG impressive. Monk ended up hitting three more from deep to finish with a team high 23 points and seven for eleven from three.
Seth Greenberg compared him to Russell Westbrook. Is that a little much? Probably, but Monk will blaze his own trail and it looks like the Big Blue Nation is seeing the beginning of a young star at UK.
You know that feeling when you have the breath knocked out of you? You can't breathe and you're gasping for air. Michigan State knows that same feeling except they didn't have the breath knocked of them. They had the long arms of the UK defense taking their breath away.
We knew one strength of UK's squad would be their length and their defense. It showed last night. Early on I almost felt sorry for MSU (ALMOST). They're just as young as we are except they could not find a bucket early. From Fox to Bam, the length was just too much for them early and often.
Briscoe also was great defensively. The Spartans had eleven turnovers in the first half and ended with 20. Those turnovers led to UK having numerous fast break opportunities.
The Cats finished with 24 fast break points. To put it simply, if the Cats are running, then the Cats are winning. To be honest, this win should've been by even more points, but I'll get to that in the "ugly" portion.
Honorable Mention: Free throws percentage and Briscoe is the leader of this team
Bad: Rebounding and Bam's fouling
Early in the game I was prepared to put rebounding in the "good" part of this article. Early on UK was getting stops on defense and getting defensive boards. Somehow that changed late. Although UK won this one handily, MSU actually beat UK on the boards 44 to 40. With UK's length and size, this should never happen. If it does happen, then it shouldn't happen against a comparably undersized team like MSU.
In early games this year, Bam Adebayo took a seat on the pine pony early in first halves due to foul trouble. Last night was no different. He's got a big body and he knows how to use it...kind of. Bam finished with six points, five rebounds and two blocks in 26 minutes. UK needs more and will need more. Last night Monk, Briscoe and Fox were more than enough, but as the season continues fans need to hope Bam can be in that trio of top scorers from game to game. FEED THAT MAN!
Honorable Mention: Did Derek Willis make the trip? Humphries has improved, but he still has a bit to go.
Ugly: Halfcourt offense
As I stated earlier when UK is running, UK is winning. When they're in a half court set...yea not so much. UK is young so it's understandable these guys still play a little too much one-on-one basketball.
Cal mentioned after the game that as a problem he saw and something that needs to be worked on for the future. Often when UK would get in the half court, the offense became stagnant with no movement.
Possessions often ended with off-balanced shots or Monk throwing up a three. He made them last night, but realistically you can't expect him to go seven for eleven from behind the arc every night.
If Bam can stay out of foul trouble, he can really help with this problem. Guys like Wenyen Gabriel, Isaac Humphries as well as Sacha Killeya-Jones could really help. Fox utilizing the dribble drive will also lead to better success in the half court.
Honorable Mention: All the travel calls (this could be because of the new "points of emphasis)
UK took an early lead and never gave it back. From beginning to end, the Cats dominated. It'll be interesting to see just how good of a MSU team UK beat last night. If you watched the game, then you know this team has a bright future, but there are several things they need to work on going forward.
With Duke's loss, UK will likely take ownership of that number one ranking next week. Not sure if this young team is ready for that designation, but we'll see soon if they REALLY are worthy of that ranking. The Cats take the court on Sunday night at home against Duquesne.