College basketball season is finally here, and expectations are sky high for the No. 1-ranked Michigan State Spartans this season — I can confirm MSU FanPulse voters have 100 percent confidence in the program prior to the tonight’s game (no individual FanPulse article just yet).
But in typical MSU fashion under Tom Izzo, the season starts out with an incredibly difficult challenge in New York City against the No. 2-ranked Kentucky Wildcats in the Champions Classic.
Tip-off is set for 9:30 p.m. (Eastern) in Madison Square Garden, or more realistically, about 20 or 30 minutes following the conclusion of the opening Champions Classic matchup between the Kansas Jayhawks and Duke Blue Devils.
Here is your game thread. This one is a little bit different, as it includes some thoughts and analysis that you’re normally not going to see throughout the year on these threads. We’re starting it early so you can all comment on the Kansas-Duke game as well. As always, keep it classy, folks!
Quick Thoughts versus Kentucky
This is going to be a tough matchup for the Spartans to open the season against in a neutral court setting. Kentucky is the less-experienced team, but is coming in with an impressive five-member freshmen class, which includes four players ranked in the top-33 nationally — guard Tyrese Maxey, and forwards Kahlil Whitney, Keion Brooks Jr. and Johnny Juzang. MSU offered both Maxey and Brooks, and was listed as a finalist for both recruits, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Additionally, Kentucky returns point guard Ashton Hagans (sophomore) and big men Nick Richards (junior) and EJ Montgomery (sophomore). Richards is banged up with an ankle injury, so he may be limited or out completely tonight, but looks to be pretty spry. Another big who brings experience, is Nate Sestina, who is a graduate transfer from Bucknell. He’ll fill the role for Richards if necessary. So this Wildcats team is not completely green, and of course head coach John Calipari has had a ton of success and will have his guys ready to play.
Michigan State will be without senior shooting guard Joshua Langford (foot), while Kyle Ahrens (ankle) and Thomas Kithier (broken nose) are expected to play ins some capacity. Meanwhile Joey Hauser remains in limbo, as he will miss tonight’s game and continue to wait on the NCAA’s decision on a waiver appeal for immediate eligibility.
What Michigan State has, though, is Izzo, a ton of experience, and arguably, the best player in college basketball in Cassius Winston. Then of course, center Xavier Tillman is set to have a big year and continue to improve. He’s a special player who’s going to dominate the inside and who has also been working on his shooting touch.
In addition to the veterans we’ve mentioned, there are also some young players who all have a chance to make an impact. Most notably, freshmen guard Rocket Watts, who is expected to start and play a significant role. He’s a player to keep an eye on to see how he adjusts to the college game, but it’s also important to note this is first ever regular season game, and he will improve throughout the season. Malik Hall and Julius Marble are the other two members of 2019’s freshmen class. Both players are expected to see time this season in a crowded front court, but how much time, and how much they play tonight, remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, last year’s freshmen class of Kithier, Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown, Marcus Bingham and Foster Loyer all return as sophomores. It’s important for each one of these players to have ascended their games year-over-year, but perhaps none more important than Henry, who (along with Watts), is going to have to fill the gap that Langford leaves on the wing. Kithier is expected to start for the Spartans, so he’ll have to have less of a learning curve as well. Look for their progression throughout the season and don’t expect an incredible performance from each and everyone of these young men against UK. But if one or two of them step up tonight, that could make a big difference between a win and a loss.
As talented as Kentucky is, all of things I just mentioned are reasons why you simply don’t want to bet against the Spartans. Then again the Spartans often get off to slow starts in these early season showcase games, so we’ll see what happens.
Expect a close, competitive game from start to finish. While this would be a nice statement win, and it would be nice to actually win one of the early season showdowns, a win or loss doesn’t make or break the season. Keep that in mind.
Who do you have winning tonight?
Which team opens the season with a victory?
This poll is closed
Will Michigan State win the Big Ten title this season (either in the regular season, conference tournament or both)
Is Michigan Sate going to be conference champions this season?
This poll is closed
And what is your expectation for this season?
What is the highest achievement MSU basketball will accomplish this season?
This poll is closed
NCAA championship runner-up
None of these (eliminated before Sweet 16)