Our friends over at Rock Chalk Talk sent us some questions about Tuesday's game in Atlanta, so we sent some questions back.
1. Both of these teams lost player-of-the-year candidates, but were still highly-ranked in the preseason. What returns for Kansas, and what makes the Jayhawks a top-five team again? What's worrisome?
We lost our two leaders, but we return three senior starters which is a pretty big deal in college basketball, in my opinion. They will need to adjust to that leadership role, but Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford are very solid defenders and they can set the tone for the newcomers in that phase of the game. The biggest concern is on the offensive side of the ball. Where are the points coming from? Who can be a go to player? I think this has the potential to be a VERY good defensive team by the end of the year but offensively there are plenty of questions and not many answers early on.
2. What matchups will be key for Kansas in Tuesday's game?
I think the physicality that Michigan State can bring will be a test for Jeff Withey on the interior and the matchup between Elijah Johnson and I assume Keith Appling will be big. If Jeff Withey responds he can change the game, if he shrinks in the moment it can hurt Kansas and their chances of being effective on both ends of the floor. With Appling and Johnson it's a matter of limiting Appling while staying out of foul trouble and on the court. If Johnson has to sit for an extensive stretch, it hurts Kansas.
3. What are your thoughts on the idea of the Champions Classic series?
I love it and I think most Kansas fans would say the same. The opportunity to play a high profile, meaningful non conference game seems invaluable on so many levels to the development of a team. I'll take a game against a team like Michigan State any day of the week this early, even if it means a loss, because you know your team is being tested and playing against the level of competition that they'll need to grow accustomed to if they want to make any noise come March.
4. We don't have the history of some of the other "blue-bloods," but the Izzo era has been as good as any in recent history. What's the perception of the Michigan State program in Lawrence?
I think Kansas fans have a tremendous amount of respect for Izzo and the Michigan State program. His success in March speaks for itself and the fact that he does it with players that fit his style makes it impressive. I think a lot of Kansas fans see similarities between Self and Izzo and that's a big piece of that respect as well.
5. Prediction for the game?
It's funny, because I go back and forth on this but I am probably going to have to stick with Kansas here simply because I think the Germany to Atlanta lag has got to play a role in this game. I think it's physical, Kansas struggles offensively initially because of that but settles in an uses their defense to get out in transition. Close game but I'll say Kansas 72, Michigan State 68.
Thanks to Owen for his answers. Make sure you check out Rock Chalk Talk for all things KU.