RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes was in Chicago for the Champion’s Classic.
Three Key Takeaways:
- Denzel Valentine Is Really Good. The Spartan senior delivered the individual performance of this young college basketball season, producing a 29 point, 12 rebound, 12 assist triple-double. Valentine had the ball in his hands in the crucial moments of almost every Spartan possession, particularly in the second half. His final shooting numbers don’t dazzle (10-23 from the field), but you can’t underemphasize Michigan State’s reliance on their do-it-all senior leader. Tom Izzo completely abandoned his offense down the stretch to give Valentine the ball and run him off of ball screen after ball screen, a strategy that paid massive dividends on this night. Demanding this much out of Valentine may prove sketchy as a long-term offensive solution, but for now, Michigan State is 2-0 and has Valentine to thank for it.
- Kansas’ Champion’s Classic Struggles Continue. If Bill Self wants to look on the bright side, the Jayhawks are probably leaving Chicago feeling better about themselves than they were this time last year. And really, a neutral site loss to a team likely to be very relevant come March will hardly cripple the Jayhawks’ season. Still though, Tuesday night’s result has to be extremely disappointing. Kansas had this game under control for the better part of 35 minutes and lost largely out of an inability to control one player on the other side. Redemption for Champion’s Classic failures of years past was well within reach. Once again, KU fell short.
- Michigan State Controls Backboards. With Spartan forward/center Gavin Schilling out again Tuesday night with turf toe, Kansas’ talented corps of big men had to enter the United Center with designs on dominating the glass. If they did have that plan, it didn’t come to fruition. Tom Izzo called his team’s first half performance “very soft”, but Michigan State had collected 10 more rebounds than the Jayhawks by the time the final buzzer sounded. Kansas must be tougher – and has the personnel to do so – moving forward. On the Michigan State side, continued success on the backboards, perhaps paired with a heavy dose of Valentine, could be a nice recipe for success moving forward.
Star of the Game: Denzel Valentine, Michigan State. No surprise here, as Valentine delivered a personal masterpiece that may not be topped anytime soon in 2015-16. One statistic that may be lost in the recounting of his heroics: Valentine finished with just one turnover. It may be the most telling statistic of any, as Valentine seemed to control nearly every second of the last ten minutes.
- “I didn’t think he was going to hit them. He showed some nuts on that one.” –Valentine on freshman forward Deyonta Davis knocking down two key free throws with 23 seconds to play
- “I felt stupid at halftime for telling everyone this was one of the better shooting teams I’ve had, shooting 33 percent. Of course that may be true, we’ve shot 28 percent some years.” –Izzo on his teams’ opening half offense
- “He is like Draymond. There’s a million things he’s not good enough at, but winning he is good enough at.” –Izzo, comparing Valentine to former Spartan star Draymond Green
- “We did some good things to get control of the game the first 33 minutes or so, then they made a ton of plays late.” –Bill Self
- “I always thought he was a good player. Tonight I think he proved to everyone that he is an exceptional player.” –Self on Valentine
Sights and Sounds: Things quieted down a bit for the second game of the Champion’s Classic, but the United Center stayed noisy throughout. Kansas fans impressively invaded Big Ten country, with Jayhawk supporters outnumbering their Spartan counterparts. Still, Valentine’s second half heroics kept a healthy back-and-forth going between fan bases. November did a very good March impersonation in Chicago tonight.
What’s Next: The Jayhawks get six days off before their next contest, a first round game in the Maui Invitational against host Chaminade. The Silverswords should offer KU little resistance, but tricky matchups could arrive on the following two days. Either UCLA or UNLV will be the Jayhawks’ opponent in game two, while possible finals opponents include Vanderbilt and Indiana. Michigan State will also be making a journey west for an in-season tournament, but not before a quick stop in East Lansing for home dates against Arkansas Pine Bluff and Eastern Michigan. The Spartans open the Wooden Classic with Boston College on Thanksgiving; probable opponents in later rounds of the event include Boise State and either Arizona or Providence (on Friday and Sunday, respectively).