Once again, John Calipari presents a team with four freshmen in the lineup who won’t be playing for Kentucky after the season is over. In their first test of the season, they ended up losing to Michigan State 78-74 in the Champions Classic, a team without a single freshman in the lineup, instead leaning on the excellent senior duo of Keith Appling and Alexander Payne.
Calipari tried to lower expectations before the game by saying he doesn’t think it’s fair for his team to be playing someone like Michigan State, the number 2 team in the country due to its returning players, while the Wildcats get the number one preseason ranking based on the size of their potential.
This is the second game out and they go 17 assists to seven turnovers? That’s unbelievable. Again, understand we’re not the greatest defensive team, but 17 and seven? With these lights and all that’s going on around them? They’re well coached. They played well.
Michigan State might be the best time right now, the real number one as some referred to them, but Julius Randle almost won the game on his own. Kentucky fell behind by 13 points at some point, but Randle scored 23 of his 27 points, hitting a shot with 42 seconds left that made it only 76-74 for the Spartans. Michigan State relied on a big offensive rebound and tip in from Brendan Dawson to give them a point lead before James Young, who scored 19 points, missed a three point attempt at the buzzer that wouldn’t have mattered.
There were clear differences in the way the teams played, but you don’t expect it to change. Tom Izzo’s teams are never the most talented. Their simply well put together, synchronized, and well coached. That’s not saying Calipari isn’t a good basketball coach, but it’s an easier job with the amount of talent he manages to bring in year after year, even though things didn’t quite work out for him last year.
Michigan State led 27-13 in transition, getting a great game from Applin, who finished with 22 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists, including 11 points in transition. They forced 17 turnovers on Kentucky, playing like you’d expect a team on its third game this season with a bunch of players who sometimes seem like they’re more worried about stealing the show and the spotlight than actually winning a game, not to mention the non existing defense, which was a big problem for them last year as well.
If these two teams meet again during this season, it won’t be surprising to see Kentucky much better prepared. They went down 10-0 before realizing the size of the occasion, turning the ball over 7 times in the first 10 minutes of the game. They got a little bit more comfortable later on, but their lack of field goals from outside the paint was another indication that at this point, these are a group of players, not a team.
For Michigan State, things aren’t going to get easier. They have UConn, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas on the schedule before January 1. This team is among the best and isn’t planning on shying of way from chances to prove it.
We want to be No. 1 at the end of the season, not at the beginning.