Let’s Laugh at Calipari For a Second Then Preview Michigan State vs. Kentucky

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on November 12th, 2013

The Michigan State-Kentucky game tonight in the Champions Classic offers plenty of compelling storylines. Experience versus likely one-and-dones, Tom Izzo against John Calipari, and what some even argue is good and bad with college basketball. Oh, yeah, and No. 1 versus No. 2 for the first time in five years and the earliest the top two teams have ever played in the season. If you want to look at the multitude of storylines and previews, the Big Ten Network already did a good job compiling them. Before getting to the key things to watch for in this game, though, let’s examine John Calipari’s comments a little more closely.

Adreian Payne and the Spartans experience will play a key role in tonight's Champions Classic game against Kentucky (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

Adreian Payne and the Spartans experience will play a key role in tonight’s Champions Classic game against Kentucky (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

We highlighted this in our Morning 5 yesterday, but in an interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader, Calipari is quoted as saying, “The issue becomes playing teams [like Michigan State] this early is not fair to my team. It may be fair for everybody else. But it’s no fair to my team.” Please, take a moment and think over that quote and everything involving the Kentucky basketball team and Calipari’s recruiting style. Are you done laughing? No? OK, I’ll wait a second longer.

Allowing for the possibility that this is merely gamesmanship, let’s go ahead and break it down. First, Kentucky approves of any team or event in which they play. It’s not like Calipari has no say in the schedule (just ask Indiana fans about that one). So, if he thinks it’s unfair to play a team this early that could have experience, well then he probably shouldn’t put his team in premier events during the first month of the season. Problem solved. Next, the unfair factor of experience? This is how Calipari recruits. His proven way to national championships is that he targets top 25 recruits who are only going to be at Kentucky for one season, two at the most. Calipari signs them and the players come in knowing that this is not only possible, but likely. The feedback loop is one reason he has consistently produced the top recruiting class in the nation for the past five years.

If it isn’t fair to Calipari that he has a “non-traditional” program, then stop targeting those recruits. It’s entirely possible to sign one or two potential one-and-done guys and then also recruit guys likely to stick around for several seasons. Then, saying it’s fair to everybody else but not you? Please, I’m pretty sure most teams don’t want to play Michigan State this season, but the other coaches aren’t complaining about it. I’m also sure most teams think it’s unfair you have created this recruiting pipeline that ensures Kentucky has a loaded roster every season. Why is it unfair when you bring this situation on yourself? Saying it’s unfair is like that person who complains about being overweight but never goes to the gym and still eats fast food everyday. It just doesn’t correlate. .

Now, on to the keys for Michigan State:

  1. Adreian Payne down low for Michigan State against Kentucky’s freshman. The Spartan guards of Gary Harris and Keith Appling outside will match up well with the Wildcats. Outside of Payne inside, though, there are plenty of question marks for Michigan State as it goes up against a couple of lottery picks in Kentucky’s Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein. Payne has to stay out of foul trouble throughout the game and play well for the Spartans to win.
  2. The start of the game will be instrumental. Michigan State’s roster has played in numerous big games, but for Kentucky’s freshman, this is a brand-new experience against the best team they’ve ever faced. Take advantage of Kentucky’s nerves and get up early. Then step on the gas.
  3. Win the free throw battle. The new rules have increased fouls a little bit this season and this will be a good gauge of how it plays out when two good teams go against each other. The Spartans only shot five free throws in their first game, compared to the Wildcats taking 48 and 38, connecting on 65 percent of them. Michigan State can’t let there be anywhere near a disparity like that against Kentucky.
  4. Free points by running and rebounding. Michigan State got 40 fast break points in its opening game, and with questions about their low post presence, it needs to get out and run against Kentucky. The Spartans also got 23 second-chance points from 18 offensive rebounds. Those types of extra chance points will put Michigan State in the driver’s seat in this game.
  5. Have to say it, use the experience. Get turnovers and take advantage of any shaky moment that Kentucky players have in this game. You have to figure that with four fan bases in the crowd, three of those will be pulling for the nation’s top-ranked team to go down. A win certainly will help the Spartans’ resume come March — Kentucky isn’t likely to lose many games this year.
Jonathan Batuello (61 Posts)

Jonathan Batuello is a journalist working out of Indiana and Big Ten correspondent for Rush the Court. Follow his Twitter account (@jcbatuello) for Big Ten basketball, Indiana high school sports and how to cope with losing at fantasy football.


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