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Michigan State Basketball Preview: Kentucky

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The State Farm Champions Classic tips-off tonight in NYC

Armed Forces Classic - Arizona v Michigan State Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

The Spartans are in New York City and ready to share a roof with three of the top programs in the history of college basketball. Fresh off a last second loss to Arizona, the young Michigan State team has yet another prime time game, in front of a national audience against a top 25 opponent.

Time to break it down.

The State Farm Champions Classic

Ah, the State Farm Champions Classic. At the beginning of every season for the last 5 years Kentucky, Duke, Kansas join Michigan State for a nice night of college basketball. The series has taken the Spartans to Chicago, Indianapolis, Atlanta and now back to the bright lights of Madison Square Garden for the first time in this tournament since 2011.

The Spartans are tied with Duke and Kentucky at 3-2 overall while the Jayhawks have been the only squad to get just one win (a 94-78 win over MSU in 2013) but the Spartans come in having beat Kansas 79-73 last year in Chicago. This is a pretty good indicator of who is going to make deep runs in the tournament as well, with 2015 have all three teams aside from Kansas making it to the final four.

This years game is held in Madison Square Garden and will have MSU tip-off in the early game against Kentucky followed by Kansas taking on Duke after the College Football Playoff Rankings reveal. Which, unfortunately is going to be as close as Michigan State gets to the playoff this season (Sorry not sorry. It hurts as much to type as it does to read.)

Tough Loss to Zona

In the hours before the next matchup against a group of Wildcats, we have to look back at the last group of Wildcats faced, Arizona last Friday. The Spartans lost a heart breaker when Arizona’s Kadeem Allen went coast to coast and laid in a basket with 2 seconds remaining gave the Wildcats the 65-63 win over MSU. While there is a lot to learn in the loss the fact remains this is a squad with some incredible potential, but some major issues to get fixed quick.

As I wrote before, anytime you have freshman getting the minutes Bridges and company will get these season you have to think about fouls and turnovers. While the young bucks did alright for the most part, there was a stretch of ten minutes that were just pretty hard to watch. They were making dumb mistakes, missing open shots, and turning the ball over way too easy. Giving up a 17-2 lead to Arizona is almost okay enough to win a game, but it is not going to be acceptable when they tip off tonight.

Youth on Youth in MSG

This match-up is surprisingly similar to the matchup the Spartans faces in Hawaii last week. They have an athletic team that has a size advantage with a Freshman big man in the middle that could take over the game and make the boards a nightmare for MSU. The difference in this game compared to Arizona is the sheer amount of athletic ability Kentucky has on their roster. There is a reason they are ranked in the top 5 in the country, Calipari is always dangerous with youth (they had a team nearly go undefeated just a few years ago with mostly underclassmen) but this Kentucky team does have a glaring weakness: shooting.

Right now the Wildcats are not looking like a team that can rely on jump shots to keep them in games. As Seth Davis pointed out:

At the moment, Kentucky is the gang that can’t shoot straight. During their first two games, the Wildcats shot 9 for 34 from three-point range. Take out Mychal Mulder’s 3-for-5 shooting, and the rest of the team is a woeful 20.7%. The perimeter trio of freshmen De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk plus sophomore Isaiah Briscoe were a combined 4 for 20. If the ‘Cats shoot like that against weak competition at home, why should we expect them to do better in Madison Square Garden against a ranked team smarting from a loss?

This is a young team who has not been able to shoot at home, shooting on national television is not going to be easier. That being said, the Spartans are going to have to keep pressure in the face of these young guards and the rotation of bigs on Bam Adebayo (6’10”) need to keep up the athletic play on the glass to keep this close.

Big Win for the Spartans

Coming off a loss, I am confident that Izzo was able to keep his team focused. They are angry that they gave away the game to Arizona and will come out resilent and ready to go in the Garden.

MSU 71 - UK 64

The game tips off at 7pm ET on ESPN. Until then, feel free to watch Miles Bridges do some more Miles Bridges things: