The sound of the ball bouncing off the hard wood, the squeaking of shoes and the sea of hands in the air after a home team player hits a big 3-point basket. This can only mean that college basketball is BACK. And the SEC is at center stage tonight when the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats take on the No. 2 Michigan State Spartans.
ESPN began coverage of the college basketball season with it’s annual 24-hour Tip-Off Marathon last night at 6 o’clock CST. It all concludes tonight beginning with the No. 1 team in the country, and SEC juggernaut, Kentucky taking on No. 2 Michigan State in Chicago at the United Center. The game will tip-off at 6:30 CST on ESPN.
Kentucky is trying to bounce back after a horribly disappointing season which ended with a bitter loss in the NIT tournament to Robert Morris University. But John Calipari and his staff put together possibly the most impressive recruiting class ever assembled in the off-season which included six ESPN 100 recruits.
Though every player in the class is an elite talent and will probably play at the professional level, the most important is power forward Julius Randle. Randle will start tonight against the Spartans.
The Wildcats are obviously the most talented squad in the country this year. But every team has an achilles heel and Kentucky’s is their inexperience. The young Cats have been impressive in their first two games against UNC Asheville and Northern Kentucky. But Michigan State is a completely different animal and they will have to grow up fast if they want to pull off a huge early season victory.
The freshmen for Kentucky have already played major roles in their first two victories. Julius Randle has gone off his first two collegiate games averaging a double-double with 22.5 points a game and 14.5 rebounds per game. The Harrison Twins, Andrew and Aaron, have both had solid outings. Aaron has averaged 13.0 points per game and 3.0 rebounds a game while Andrew has 10.5 points per game and 1.0 rebounds per game. Marcus Lee wraps up the freshmen who are averaging double digit points through the first two games with 10.0 and he also is averaging 3.5 rebounds per game.
There are still some things that need to be worked on to perfect what John Calipari is wanting to do, but Calipari is the best in the business at getting the most out of young players and getting them to play together.
On the other side of the court are the No. 2 Michigan State Spartans. This team has potential to be the best the Head Coach Tom Izzo has coached in his 18 year tenure at the helm. The Spartans are probably the most experienced team in the nation this year. They return their top 3 scorers and six of the top seven from the 2012-2013 team which had a Sweet 16 appearance.
Leading the way are seniors, Center Adreian Payne and guard Keith Appling. With those two back, the Spartans return 81 percent of their points, assists, rebounds and steals. In addition to that, they also return 96 percent of their blocks.
This Michigan State team is a force to be reckoned with and they face an incredible challenge Tuesday night trying to knock off the ultra-talented Kentucky Wildcats. Many experts believe that because of the combination of talent and experience that the Spartans are the best team in the country. And that argument can be made but the talent gap is so far between Kentucky and Michigan State that it is understandable why they are number two.
The Spartans have played one game this season. They dismantled McNeese State Friday night 98-56. They lead the nation in rebounding (66.0 rebounds per game) and assists (32.0 assists per game). They are also ranked 18 in points per game (98.0).
In Friday night’s victory, the Spartans were led by Sophomore Gary Harris who scored 20 points and had 10 rebounds. They will need more of the same play Tuesday if they hope to pull off the upset over Kentucky.
Kentucky really is the perfect team minus their inexperience. They have the most talented shooters, big men and the best coach in the nation. Michigan State may be experienced but the talent and coaching gap will overwhelm them and the Wildcats will remain number one after tonight.
Kentucky-81 Michigan State-74
–Justin Taylor, Associate Editor, HottyToddy.com
–You can email Justin at email@example.com