Michigan State vs. Kentucky Preview: Two Completely Biased Views

Posted by Deepak Jayanti & David Changas on November 12th, 2013

Tuesday night brings us the first #1 vs. #2 match-up college basketball has seen in five-and-a-half years, as the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats take on the second-ranked Michigan State Spartans in the Champions Classic  at the United Center in Chicago. Two of our microsite writers – Deepak Jayanti (Big Ten) and David Changas (SEC) – examine three key questions heading into the game.

John Calipari said Kentucky could go undefeated this year. A win over Michigan State would add more credibility to that statement (ESPN Photo)

John Calipari said Kentucky could go undefeated this year. A win over Michigan State would add more credibility to that statement (ESPN Photo)

1. Can anyone from Michigan State stop Julius Randle?

David: The second most ballyhooed freshman in the country, Randle has lived up to the hype, albeit against inferior competition. His NBA-ready frame and soft touch allow him to get to the basket with ease and knock down mid-range jumpers, and will make it difficult for Adreian Payne and company to slow him down. It’s safe to assume Randle will get his points and will cause significant problems for the Spartans, but the likely key will be Michigan State’s success in limiting Randle’s talented supporting cast. Whether it can do so will determine who prevails in this battle of heavyweights.

Deepak: You might expect Tom Izzo to use Payne against Randle, but this strategy could backfire if he can’t keep up with Randle’s quickness. Randle’s size and quickness cannot be matched by anybody on the Spartans, but, Branden Dawson is Izzo’s best defensive stopper. Dawson is quick and has the meat on his bones to keep Randle in front of him and force the freshman to use his jumper. It is unclear if Randle has the post moves to use his size advantage to beat Dawson in the paint, but if he doesn’t, then the 6’6″ wing could put up a decent defensive effort against him.

2. Can Kentucky match up with Michigan State on the glass?

Deepak: The Wildcats have the individual talent to compete for rebounds, but as a team, they don’t stand a chance against the Spartans on the glass. Payne is a monster on the boards but the Spartans’ wings – Dawson and Denzel Valentine – are also excellent rebounders. Both of them averaged a combined 10.0 RPG last season and will make sure that anybody not named Randle on Big Blue does not beat them on the offensive glass. The Payne vs. Randle match-up on the glass may be a wash, but as a unit, the Spartans should be able to outrebound the youthful Wildcats on Tuesday night.

David: Domination on the glass has long been Tom Izzo’s calling card, and the Spartans 66-29 edge on the glass against McNeese State is an indication that will continue with this group. The Wildcats have also been terrific on the boards thus far, with Randle and sophomores Willie Cauley-Stein  and Alex Poythress leading the way. Kentucky is supremely athletic, big, and should have no problem owning the glass all year, but doing it against Michigan State is a very tall order. If the Wildcats can hold their own in this department, they could walk out of the Windy City with a win.

3. Does experience matter?

David: Everyone knows the Kentucky freshman class is one of the most highly regarded in history, but this is their first opportunity on a big stage. And it’s a massive one. Michigan State returns most of last year’s Sweet Sixteen team, and it’s reasonable to assume that the Spartans won’t be intimidated by the bright lights. Given their pedigree and swagger, though, it’s even more likely that the Wildcats are not only not phased by the atmosphere, but that they thrive in it. This team has high expectations, and will relish the opportunity to be the focus of the college basketball world.

Deepak: Year in and year out, we question Calipari’s teams for their lack of experience. At some point, we have to admit that he just knows how to coach disciplined freshman on the big stage and this year should not be any different. The freshmen have some initial jitters, but so will the Spartans. Even though he is a senior, Payne is not used to being a primary offensive option and his scoring abilities will be put to test in Chicago. The same goes for Harris: It is one thing to be considered a solid player as a freshman but having a target on his back as the top scorer on the second best team in the country can pose a whole new challenge for the sophomore. If the Harris/Payne combination can limit turnovers during the first 10 minutes of the game, they should build enough confidence to compete with the top-ranked team in the nation.

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