I think we can all agree that the college basketball season officially starts tonight, and man this is quite the combination of match-ups. Just think for a second about the collective history of these four programs: Adolph Rupp, Wilt Chamberlin, Coach K, Magic Johnson, even the creator of the game itself Dr. James Naismith who coached at Kansas starting in 1898 just to name a few. Between these four powerhouse programs there are 17 National Championships, 33 Title Game appearances, and 52 Final Four appearances (Kentucky leads in Championships, Title Games, and is tied with
Puke Duke for Final Fours). Couple all of that history with the fact that the entire Country will be watching these games and it all becomes a bit overwhelming.
While Cal has said that putting his young team in this type of situation is “unfair,” I don’t believe that word accurately describes this situation. If anything, it’s unfortunate at worst, and inspiring at best. Sure, all of Cal’s players are familiar with National attention but this is a completely different league all together. USA Today Sports has said that the game between the Spartans and Kentucky could be a preview of the National Championship game in April, and I’m (although admittedly biased) compelled to agree. This is another example of talent vs. experience. The difference however, is that Michigan State is not only experienced- returning 6 of their top 7 scorers from last season- but is also highly talented.
Here are five key factors to watch for in tonight’s highly anticipated 1 v. 2 match-up against Tom Izzo and company:
1. Lights, Camera, Action
How are the Cats going to respond to such a high pressure situation? It’s incredibly difficult to come in and perform at a high level period, but imagine playing in front of thousands of people in the house that Jordan built and for literally millions of people watching on TV or listening on the radio. That kind of pressure will either break a man, or make a man. It’ll be interesting to see who steps up and who fades away.
2. There’s No “I” in Team, but There is a “Me”
Speaking of pressure, the question of cohesiveness will be amplified exponentially tonight. These guys know that EVERYONE will be watching tonight, and with that much spotlight the tendency for young players is to “get mine.” Individual effort is one thing, but trying to do too much will be devastating against a team as well coached and as talented as Michigan State. The only way to beat team basketball, is with better team basketball and not one or two guys trying to do it themselves.
3. How’s Your Chin?
Michigan State is going to come out firing tonight, and I’m curious to see how Kentucky will respond when they get punched in the mouth. If you listened to Cal’s remarks after the NKU game, you heard him bring up the questions of fight and drive. It’s one thing to fight and win against scrub teams, but it’s completely different to fight against a quality opponent. What happens if Michigan State opens up a 10 point lead early in the game? Or, how does Kentucky handle opening up a lead of their own? In either case, Kentucky has to maintain a certain (and I hate using this word) “swag” about them and cannot get down if the score isn’t in their favor, nor can they get complacent if they build a lead.
4. I Want the Ball
If this game goes as expected, the entire contest could come down to one key possession. In that case, who takes the shot? We as fans don’t know, and I’m not sure if the players or coaches know either. This is a complicated situation for a team who hasn’t truly found their identity as of yet. For kicks and giggles, let’s say that Cal runs that possession through Julius Randle in the post. Does he try and do it himself, or does he look for the kick out to James Young or one of the Harrisons for the clutch 3? If the game gets close and comes down to the wire, we will learn a lot about these Wildcats and we will be able to distinguish between hype and hero.
5. These New Rules are Terrible…
It is a real possibility (and I cringe as I type this) that Kentucky’s free throw shooting woes will rear its ugly head tonight. I will never understand why Cal’s teams are horrendous foul shooters, but I will take the bad with the good I suppose. I honestly get tired of preaching on this, and if you’ve read any of my previous basketball posts you’ll know that free throws get mentioned every time. I’m not going to throw any more bad karma towards the Cats so I’m just going to hope and pray for a 70% night from the charity stripe. In Cal we trust.
Regardless of the outcome, we will all learn a great deal about Kentucky tonight. Enough talking, it’s put up or shut up time. Cats by 5 in a thrilling game in the United Center. #BBN
If you feel like I feel I got the anecdote…
Follow on Twitter