There are no moral victories for a storied program like Michigan State, but the Spartans falling 64-63 to #2 Gonzaga on the USS Abraham Lincoln last Friday was a good showing considering they were +12 point underdogs. The near-win was enough to get MSU to squeak into the top 25 in this week’s rankings.
Now Tom Izzo’s crew faces a second straight top-five team, up against the #4 Kentucky Wildcats on Tuesday night in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis. UK has rolled to 20+ point wins in their first two games to start the season and are -7.5 underdogs here, even though the Spartans are Kentucky’s biggest test of the season to date.
Will Kentucky Get Their Star Back?
The Wildcats have covered a -25 point spread against Howard (95-63) and a -19 number vs. Duquesne (77-52). What’s interesting about that is the reigning player of the year Oscar Tschiebwe, did not play in either contest as he recovers from a knee procedure last month.
Tschiebwe had hoped to be ready for the season opener, but it’s also possible that John Calipari did not want to rush him back in two easily winnable games to start the year. Tschiebwe is questionable vs. MSU, and UK would probably love to have his 17.3 ppg and 15.3 rpg in the lineup Tuesday night.
It’s not all concerning injury news for the Wildcats, as they did get Sahvir Wheeler back against Duquesne after he missed the season opener with a leg injury. Wheeler is a senior PG who led the conference in assists in each of the last two seasons, so his experience is invaluable vs. a good Spartans defense.
Michigan State More Optimistic
You never rebuild in East Lansing, as fans have become accustomed to this team contending for a conference title year in and year out. People knew it was going to be tough for Michigan State early this year after losing their top three scorers from a season ago, but being up seven at the half against #2 Gonzaga is reassuring to this fan base.
Sure Gonzaga is dealing with some big replacements of their own, and it’s always tough to get going playing on a neutral site that is an aircraft carrier, but we’ll really see if the Spartans are contenders based on how they play against UK.
One big bright spot from the Bulldogs game was Mady Sissoko, who had 14 points and nine rebounds after playing just 4.4 mpg. Joey Hauser is Michigan State’s top returning scorer, and the Spartans almost beat the #2 team in the country even though he had just 2 points on Friday night.
Kentucky at Michigan State Pick
It would be nice to know if the Wildcats do give Tschiebwe some minutes on Tuesday because Michigan State really struggled on the post against Gonzaga’s Drew Timme, who had 22 points on 9-14 shooting and also grabbed 13 rebounds. Both Hauser and Sissoko fouled out against Gonzaga, so MSU’s interior defense has some issues.
The Wildcats might be fine without Tschiebwe too. They have the experienced Wheeler and two other Seniors in CJ Fredrick and Antonio Reeves, who are both averaging over 17.0 ppg on this young season. The Spartans are overmatched here.
Pick: Kentucky -7.5