Who: No. 1 Michigan State (0-0) versus No. 2 Kentucky (0-0)
When: Tuesday, November 5 at 9:30 p.m. EST
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
Radio: Spartan Sports Network/94.9 WMMQ-FM (Lansing)
Line: MSU -3
Injury and availability updates:
The Spartans have a roster full of players that have played in big games like the Champions Classic. The question is how many will be healthy and available?
“Cassius (Winston) and Xavier (Tillman) know what's expected of them, and Aaron (Henry) is constantly progressing," Head Coach Tom Izzo said Monday afternoon. "It’s the other guys that are going to be important."
Michigan State already knew that it would be without senior guard Joshua Langford on Tuesday night, who had an injury resurface in his left foot — the same foot that kept him out for the majority of last season. The Spartans still haven't received an official word on the status of Joey Hauser, which means the Marquette transfer won't play either.
“The expectation is we are appealing the appeal which, again, sounds crazy because everything should be over with," Izzo said " ... He will not play tomorrow, I know that for a fact.”
The Spartans will have senior guard Kyle Ahrens back, he's dealt with a plethora of injuries during his MSU career, and suffered a high-ankle sprain against Gonzaga in the Spartans' "secret scrimmage", which kept him out of MSU's exhibition game against Albion.
“I'm going to try and manage it, but it won’t be a total management thing," Izzo said. "I'm going to manage it by talking to Kyle. You know, how he feels and how he plays.”
Sophomore forward Thomas Kithier suffered a broken nose this past week in practice when he took an inadvertent elbow while running down the court by freshman Julius Marble. But, he will be play against the Wildcats, and more than likely start at the 4-spot, according to Izzo.
The return of Ahrens, and lack of concern for Kithier adds some extra depth at the Spartans' two question marks in their lineup. Ahrens will provide a veteran presence off of the bench behind Rocket Watts, if the true freshman starts Tuesday night, while Kithier will be an option behind Tillman at the 5-spot.
"I wish all those injuries would happen to me and not my players and I’d feel a little better. I'm not going to sit there and worry, it is what it is.”
Bright lights, big city:
Cassius Winston knows what it is like to be a freshman and play against Kentucky under the bright lights in Madison Square Garden. The 13th-ranked Spartans fell to No. 2 Kentucky 69-48 back in 2016, in Winston's second-career collegiate game. As the backup point guard that night, Winston scored nine points in 22 minutes.
Three years later he's in charge of leading a group of freshman that includes Watts, Marble and Mailk Hall from succumbing to the environment.
"You know what, I hope I get in there and their eyes pop. I really do … I hope they are nervous, I really do," Izzo said. "And I hope they are excited. That's the privilege you get of playing a schedule like this, when you could have gone to a million schools that don’t play these kind of games.”
Tillman is the only other player on MSU's roster to play at Madison Square Garden during his college career. A freshman at the time, Tillman scored a combined six points against Wisconsin and Michigan in the 2017 Big Ten Tournament.
Season opener stock:
Izzo has been around the block long enough to know how much to take out of an enormous season opener like the Champions Classic. In the long run, he knows the result of Tuesday's game means a lot less than finding exactly where his players stack up with the rest of the top teams in the country.
“If we win I’ll take a lot of stock, if we lose I'll take no stock, personally. Either way I'll take no stock," Izzo said. "All it's going to do, is it's going to help give us an idea of where we are and who’s gotten a little better, who needs a lot more work, all those kind of things. I've always said it's great because if you think you’re better than you are, you usually get it knocked out of you. It's great because if you’re questioning your team and you play good, you feel a little better. If you play bad, you already know what some of your problems are and you get a chance to, maybe, not only tell the players but they get a chance to find out for themselves.”
There was a time when Winston didn't understand that. But with age, experience and a Final Four run under his belt — when Michigan State was the only Champions Classic team to make it, even though they lost in the event to open the season — Tuesday's game is just a stepping stone for the Spartans' ultimate goals.
“You just have to embrace the moment. This is a huge opportunity to play against the best in the country, to play on the biggest stage," Winston said. "Those are moments that you dream of when thinking about playing college basketball. That's what you watch on TV, those games on ESPN and things like that. And at the same time you have to remember that you want to play your best basketball at the end of the year.
"That's what you’re working towards, that's the whole goal. No matter what happens, you want to play great, you want to do those things. And if not, you got to figure out what you can learn from it and how you can carry that over into the next game.”
Justin Frommer: 75-72, Kentucky
Paolo Giannandrea: 75-68, Michigan State