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Champions Classic Preview: Kentucky Wildcats vs. Michigan State Spartans


The convenient storyline of Kentucky’s matchup against Michigan State will be one of raw talent vs. college experience.

Kentucky started four freshmen in two games this season from a group that’s expected to challenge for the national championship and declare for the NBA Draft. Michigan State has built a team in a way that’s become common in East Lansing — develop its own pro talent over the course of three and four years while challenging for national championships.

Michigan State isn’t bereft of talent, to be sure. Senior Adreian Payne and sophomore Gary Harris elected to stay in school rather than go to the NBA Draft, but the Spartans’ four returning starters are accustomed to playing together and playing in tight situations where Kentucky is not.

The winner in Chicago will either remain No. 1 in Kentucky’s case or take over the No. 1 spot for Michigan State, but it’s far from an endgame.

“This is a big deal, but it’s November,” Kentucky coach Calipari said.

Kentucky vs. Michigan State

Team preview for No. 1 Kentucky
Team preview for No. 4 Michigan State

Whens and Wheres


7:30 p.m.




United Center (Chicago)

Top Matchup: Kentucky’s Julius Randle vs. Michigan State’s Adreian Payne

Randle is in the freshman and player of the year conversations along with Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins. Randle showed why early, with 45 points and 30 rebounds in the first two games — against Northern Kentucky and UNC Asheville. He will have a much tougher matchup against the senior Payne, an athletic, veteran big man with a pro future himself. Payne will need to defend Randle without getting into foul trouble, though. The Kentucky freshman is 12 of 20 from the free throw line in two games.

Key Stat: 10 of 33/10 of 26

A small sample size, for sure, but 3-point shooting could be a storyline in this game. Kentucky is 10 of 33 from beyond the arc in two games while Michigan State was 10 of 26 in its only game this season. Credit both teams for knowing where their strengths lie, at least. Michigan State’s Gary Harris was the Big Ten freshman of the year last season despite a shoulder injury, but he’s healthy this year. He’ll be dangerous from 3-point range, but he’s also become an aggressive rebounder.

Kentucky's Key Storyline: Use of Alex Poythress

The sophomore was a McDonald’s All-American arriving at Kentucky, but he’s in a sort of no-man’s land where he didn’t leave for the draft as a one-and-done. Now he’s coming off the bench among Kentucky’s freshmen and sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein. His role and energy on Kentucky’s talented roster will be an intriguing storyline this season.

Michigan State's Key Storyline: Keith Appling’s improvement

Appling enters this season as one of the nation’s top point guards, but don’t forget that he struggled at times last season. Michigan State’s experience is an asset, but the Spartans’ national championship bid will be in question if Appling continues to be turnover prone.