Kentucky Wildcats vs. Michigan State Spartans in Champions Classic
- Game Time: Approximately 9:30 pm EST on November 5th
- Location: Madison Square Garden
- TV Channel: ESPN. That’s DirecTV channel 206.
- Live Online Stream: You can watch the practice online via WatchESPN and on mobile devices via the WatchESPN app.
- Replay: WatchESPN and SEC Network (check local listings).
- Radio: Tom Leach and Mike Pratt will have the UK radio network call on 630 AM, 98.1 FM in Lexington, and on the UK Sports Network.
- Online radio: TuneIn broadcast or UKAthletics.com.
- Rosters: UK | MSU
- Odds: Michigan State opened as a 2.5-point favorite, and the spread has grown to 4 in some sportsbooks.
- Live Stats
- Score Prediction: TeamRankings has Michigan State winning 69-67. KenPom projects the Spartans to win 72-70 and gives the Cats just a 45% chance of winning.
The wait is over.
No. 2 Kentucky is set to open the 2019-20 season against No. 1 Michigan State in the Champions Classic.
The game is slated to begin at 9:30 pm EST, but it will end up being 30 minutes after the first game ends, so it could be later depending on how long Kansas vs. Duke takes to finish. If history is any indication, it is likely that the game will not tip off until closer to 10:00 pm EST.
There’s no better way to begin the 2019-2020 season, under the bright lights at Madison Square Garden, arguably the most famous sports venue in the world, and both teams entering the contest ranked No. 1 and 2 respectively. It will mark the Wildcats’ ninth all-time 1-2 matchup, and they’re 5-3 in such games.
This will also mark just the second time in NCAA Division I history the top two teams in the AP Top 25 begin their respective seasons against one another. According to STATS, the only other time the AP No. 1 and No. 2 teams played in their season openers was when No. 1 Indiana faced No. 2 UCLA in November 1975 (Indiana won, 84-64).
With another young team, John Calipari will be tasked with getting his team prepared. We all know how it went down last season when Duke pummeled a Kentucky team that just looked completely outmatched from the opening tip.
A big story leading into the game will be injuries for both teams. Kentucky could be without the services of junior center Nick Richards, who sprained his ankle in Kentucky’s first exhibition game against Georgetown. The last update provided listed him as day-to-day. Richards was wearing a walking boot during UK’s game against Kentucky State on Friday, but he went through a walk-through Sunday, so he has a shot to play Tuesday.
Michigan State, on the other hand, will be battling a slew of injuries. Most notably, Joshua Langford is out indefinitely with a foot injury. He was poised to be one of the better scoring guards in college basketball as a senior, but that won’t happen until January at the earliest.
In addition, sophomore forward Kyle Kithier recently broke his nose but is expected to play. Senior Kyle Ahrens and freshman Rocket Watts are both fighting through injuries as well.
Leading the way for the Spartans is player of the year candidate Cassius Winston. As the only All-American player returning to college basketball this season, Winston enters his senior campaign with 1,411 points and 714 assists in 109 games, putting him in reach of ending his college career with 2,000 points and 1,000 assist, an achievement that has never been done by a Division I player.
Winston averaged 18.8 points and 7.5 assists as a junior, leading the Spartans to Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles and to the Final Four for the eighth time under head coach Tom Izzo.
Speaking of, Izzo is one of the game’s best coaches and is favored to win his second national title this season. Under Izzo’s watch, the Spartans have nine regular season Big Ten titles and has won one national title, Izzo holds a 606-232 coaching record and is entering his 24th season with the Spartans, making him the longest-tenured basketball coach in the Big Ten.
In the frontcourt, the Spartans are anchored by junior Xavier Tillman. The 6-8 forward finished last season fourth on the team in scoring (10 ppg), was second on the team in rebounds (7.3 rpg) and led the team with 65 blocked shots.
An emerging star for the Spartans is sophomore Aaron Henry. In 39 games, he averaged 6.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and two assists per game. But it was the postseason when Henry really came on, including a 20-point, eight-rebound, six-assist outing vs. LSU in the Sweet 16.
For the Wildcats, they’ll rely heavily on a rare group of veteran returnees, highlighted by co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year Ashton Hagans. He averaged 10.5 points, 9.5 assists in two exhibition games. He totaled 61 steals in 2018-19, tied for the third most by a UK freshman in program history, to go with 7.7 points and 4.3 assists per game.
It was sophomore Immanuel Quickley who looked like the Wildcats’ best player in the preseason. He led Kentucky in scoring in the exhibition games with 15.5 points per contest.
Graduate transfer Nate Sestina averaged 12 points and nine boards in those two games and already looks like a major player in Kentucky’s frontcourt. The former Bucknell star can also space the floor with his three-point shooting, which will be critical against a Spartans team that will likely play a lot of zone until Kentucky proves it can hit from deep.
If there is one thing you can count on, it is Michigan State being physical and showing toughness, something Calipari has raised concerns about since this summer. How his young team responds to playing through contact against one of the nation’s most physical teams may be the difference in this game.
As long as the Champions Classic is the first game of the season, you really cannot be surprised by any result, good or bad, so whatever happens, don’t get too high or low on either team’s performance.
Saying this, a win here will eventually prove to be a huge resume win when Selection Sunday rolls around, so the importance of this game remains very high.