Monday, November 28, 2022

Preview: MSU to take on No. 4 Kentucky in Champions Classic

November 15, 2022
Junior guard AJ Hoggard dribbles down the court during the Spartans matchup with No. 2 Gonzaga in the 2022 Armed Forces Classic on Nov. 11. The Spartans fell 64-63.
Junior guard AJ Hoggard dribbles down the court during the Spartans matchup with No. 2 Gonzaga in the 2022 Armed Forces Classic on Nov. 11. The Spartans fell 64-63. —
Photo by Devin Anderson-Torrez | The State News

After a devastating 64-63 loss to Gonzaga in the Armed Forces Classic, MSU will head to Indianapolis Tuesday for the Champions Classic to take on No. 4 Kentucky. 

The unranked green and white proved their worth against No. 2 Gonzaga with the spotlight on junior center Mady Sissoko, who shut down concern around his skill abilities as he took on All-American senior forward Drew Timme. 

Sissoko stepped up to the challenge, revealing his potential at the five on Friday night. 

Although MSU ended up just short in Friday's game, the Spartans showed they still belong amongst the blue bloods.

“I was pleased by everything except we had one bad stretch,” Head Coach Tom Izzo said. “In general, I think there were a lot more positives than negatives.”

Looking to Kentucky

The Wildcats are 2-0 coming off a 77-52 victory over Duquesne on Friday and a 95-63 win the previous week against Howard. Kentucky’s led by Head Coach John Calipari who’s heating up his 14th season. 

Leading scorers from Kentucky’s weekend win were senior guard Antonio Reaves (18), redshirt senior guard C.J. Frederick (14) and senior guard Sahvir Wheeler (11)

Freshman forward Ugonna Onyenso secured a high of 10 rebounds followed by senior forward Jacob Toppin with 8. 

Izzo said that he believes this year’s team is the greatest he’s yet to see with notable seniors on the roster. 

Kentucky’s starting five consists of junior forward Lance Ware, Toppin, Frederick, freshman forward Livingston and freshman guard Carson Wallace.

Kentucky brings a powerhouse squad in terms of size and rebounding abilities, both areas MSU is lacking in.

The question everyone’s asking is whether or not senior center Oscar Tshiebwe will make an appearance on the court Tuesday night. Tshiebwe, who was the unanimous National Player of the Year in 2021-22, has sat out the past two games while recovering from a knee injury.

Izzo said he’s 99 percent certain Tshiebwe will play on Tuesday but it’s a matter of how many minutes. 

“It’s going to be interesting to see how we all handle him because nobody else has handled Oscar very well,” Izzo said. “That’s why you average 17 points and almost 16 rebounds. Yet, we’re going to look at some things that we can do and try to take advantage of some things he doesn’t do as well." 

Izzo said he expects to see sophomore guard Jaden Akins more in Tuesday’s matchup and then against Villanova on Friday night. Akins continues to ease his way back into the game after a nine-week recovery period.

Izzo put emphasis on the need to continue fine tuning rebounding.

“If Jaden and Pierre (Brooks) and A.J. (Hoggard) don't rebound, we’re gonna have enough work just to keep those other guys off the boards,” Izzo said. “Those three guards are gonna have to rebound. If they get their share of rebounds, I would like our chances better.”

Similar to the Armed Forces Classic, the Champions Classic is an event valued by Spartan fans as it enters its 12th year in existence.

“This is a privilege and an honor that was earned over a period of time,” Izzo said. “I hope Michigan State fans appreciate that we are playing in this thing every year and it is something I would never give up. I think it’s a night of college basketball that brings all these games together.”

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The Spartans will face the Wildcats Tuesday at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Tipoff will be at 7 p.m. and the matchup will be televised on ESPN.

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