PREVIEW: No. 13 MSU looks to upset No. 2 Kentucky in Champions Classic
The MSU men’s basketball team will travel to Madison Square Garden in New York City for their next high-profile battle against the No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats in the Champions Classic.
The Spartans hold a record of 3-2 in the Champions Classic and a 3-11 record in Madison Square Garden, 3-7 under head coach Tom Izzo. MSU last met Kentucky in the Champions Classic in 2013, when the Spartans finished victorious 78-74. Former guard Keith Appling led with 22 points.
The Champions Classic includes MSU, Kentucky, Duke and Kansas. Historically, Kentucky leads all schools in total wins since their first season with 2,207. Kansas follows at number two and Duke at number four. MSU trickles in at 28 with 1,637 wins. However, during the past 18 seasons, no team has reached more Final Fours than MSU with seven.
MSU hopes to get back up after a late layup by Arizona’s Kadeem Allen stunned the Spartans in Hawaii, 65-63, in their .
“I’d say that our biggest concerns are transition defense and defending without fouling,” Izzo said at his press conference on Monday. “That was a problem for us in the last game.”
Izzo said he believes the loss was a disappointment, however, was thought the team played well in stretches.
“I felt we had a chance to win a game that, in a lot of ways, we deserved to win,” Izzo said. “I didn’t think our defense was phenomenal by any means, but it was good enough.”
The Wildcats, 2-0, come off of a 23-point throbbing to Stephen F. Austin. Although they are shooting just 26.5 percent from behind the 3-point line, the Wildcats have been able to get to the foul line 69 times in two games.
Izzo said the Spartans were handcuffed with foul trouble against Arizona. Six different players had three personal fouls, and they had 23 overall as a team.
Turnovers plagued the Spartans in their loss. Izzo stressed the phrase turnovers leading to touchdowns, which means easy points off of turnovers, such as fast break points — just as a quarterback would throw an interception leading to a touchdown. Out of 18 turnovers for the Spartans, Izzo said about five to six of them turned into easy baskets the other way.
“You can have turnovers,” Izzo said. “If you have them for touchdowns, it is a problem.”
The Wildcats have used forcing turnovers as one of their strengths. Forcing more than 23 turnovers per game, Kentucky will look to push the ball and create many fast break opportunities.
“They have a point guard that can get from zero to 60 faster than most cars,” Izzo said. “It will be a track meet. ... I don’t see a lot of half-court game in this game.”
Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox has swiftly racked up 7.5 assists per game, while their leading scorer, guard Isaiah Briscoe, pours in 19 points per game.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari is better known for his ability to recruit high freshman talent year in and year out. This season, the Wildcats feature seven freshmen, including Fox, guard Malik Monk and forward Edrice Adebayo, while having a total of three seniors on their roster.
One five-star recruit Kentucky missed out on, forward Miles Bridges, will look to build off of his 21-point performance against Arizona. Izzo thinks he will be able to improve more by keeping his playing minutes in check, he said.
Bridges played 37 of 40 possible minutes, guard Matt McQuaid was next with 33 minutes. Izzo said by giving Bridges more time to rest, he will be able to attack the basket and offensive glass more.
Guard Joshua Langford and guard Cassius Winston will be getting a minute increase, Izzo said. They found themselves on the bench for extended periods of time because of foul trouble.
Forward Kenny Goins and forward Nick Ward will continue to handle a large front-court presence. Against Arizona, Ward and Goins were responsible to guard three players, 6-foot-11 or taller. Kentucky will provide them Adebayo at 6-foot-10, 260 pounds, and forward Isaac Humphries, at 7 feet tall and 255 pounds.
“I think it is a great opportunity for us to go there against a very quality team and bounce back,” Izzo said. “To be involved in the Champions Classic is, to me, still one of the greatest honors for Michigan State University and our basketball program.”
MSU trails Kentucky 11-12 in their all-time series.