It’s about that time.
In just a few days, Michigan State and Kentucky will suit up and battle in what is the most anticipated early-season college basketball game. It’s the nation’s No. 1 vs No. 2, and it has all the fixings to be one of the best games of the year.
However, if Kentucky doesn’t come out on top or even if they look shell-shocked, don’t get down on the Wildcats. Michigan State is a veteran team, returning many of their key pieces from their Final Four run a year ago.
This is a roster still led by Cassius Winston, one of the top favorites to win multiple Player of the Year awards. Xavier Tillman is returning for his junior year as well and has the potential to be one of the best big men in college hoops. The same is true of Aaron Henry, who was a star in the run to the Final Four.
All in all, the Spartans are bringing back three of their top four scorers from a very good team, one that knocked out the top overall seed, Duke, in March Madness just seven months ago.
For Kentucky, it’s almost the opposite.
Ashton Hagans will be returning and will, in all likelihood, be the team’s starting point guard. He was the Wildcats’ sixth leading scorer. Of their top four leading scorers, Kentucky isn’t returning a single one (they’re mostly killing it in the NBA) while the Spartans will bring back three.
The difference in collegiate experience is shocking, but this is the same story each season for Coach Calipari. He should understand how to build this team’s chemistry, which is why we’ve seen strong runs in March from Kentucky.
The Wildcats won’t be short of talent though and won’t be making excuses for any poor play. They may be starting three five-star talents, as Kahlil Whitney, Tyrese Maxey, and Keion Brooks, will be playing in their first real challenge.
Madison Square Garden to kick the season off with a bang is the opportunity ahead of Kentucky. But, the team on the other side of the court will have been under that same spotlight before, and they’ll be prepared.
If Coach Cal’s freshmen can’t live up to the hype in their first game, don’t get down on them. They have NBA-caliber talent. Let’s see this team compete against the SEC, a conference that’ll again be among the toughest in the NCAA, to really start to critique their play.
In addition, the potential absence of Nick Richards is really putting the frontcourt in a bad spot. Richards’ sprained ankle may lead to him missing Tuesday, which means guys like Brooks and Whitney may be forced into extended minutes at the 4. They’re already going to have a tough time adjusting to facing a top-tier Power 5 team, so playing out of position to boot won’t make it easier.
This can be a very fun season, regardless of what happens Tuesday.