They Lost in the First Round
In one of the greatest upsets in NCAA Tournament history, 15-seed Middle Tennessee State upset Sparty 90-81 to knock out the tournament’s No. 5 overall seed. With Denzel Valentine leading the way, most brackets had MSU in the Final Four. Instead, they saw a sad Valentine.
They Started the Season with a Loss
The Spartans started the season at the Armed Forces Classic in Hawaii. After sprinting out to an early 17-2 lead, Arizona responded with a 23-4 run. From there, it was back-and-forth for the rest of the game until Tum Tum Nairn Jr.’s three-pointer tied it up with only 7 seconds left. Then, they blew it.
Izzo Wants to Keep the Cats Off the Free Throw Line
“I’d say that our biggest concerns are transition defense and defending without fouling,” Izzo said during yesterday’s press conference. “They go to the free throw line somewhere between 34 and 35 times per game, which is almost a joke. But, they do a good job of getting there.”
If their first game is any indication, that could be a problem tonight. Arizona went to the line 27 times and knocked down 20 of them.
It Could Get Sloppy
Michigan State committed 18 turnovers vs. Arizona. To be fair, both teams didn’t have a tune up to prepare, creating an ugly game until the second half. Conversely, UK is forcing 23 turnovers a game. Granted, it wasn’t against the best competition, but ball control will come into effect tonight in Madison Square Garden. Izzo said yesterday he doesn’t mind turnovers, but the turnovers can’t turn into “touchdowns,” a.k.a. easy points in transition.
Not Good at the Garden
Michigan State’s all-time record in Madison Square Garden is 3-11, 3-7 under Izzo. The last time they were there, they lost to UConn in the 2014 Regional Finals, the team that would eventually beat Kentucky in the National Championship.
Kentucky’s record at MSG is the exact opposite of MSU’s. The Cats are 11-3 at the Garden, the site where they won the 1976 NIT. The last time UK played at MSG they defeated Kansas in the 2011 Champions Classic 75-65, a preview of the 2012 National Championship.
By the Numbers
It’s a small sample size, but it’s worth noting.
Cal Respects Bridges
Miles Bridges is one of the most talented recruits Tom Izzo has ever convinced to come to East Lansing. The Flint, Michigan native is an elite athlete that does it all. He is one of two forwards in the starting lineup, but he’s probably best suited on the perimeter, like his predecessor Draymond Green.
“Miles Bridges is legitimately one of the best players in the country — physically, skill wise,” Calipari said. “He’s a big body with guard skills. Not afraid. He’s Tom’s (Izzo) kind of player, too. He’s gritty. He’s tough.”
This is Izzo’s Best Recruiting Class
Miles Bridges chose Michigan State over Kentucky. “We don’t want to be the new Kentucky,” he said when he committed. “We want to be Michigan State. We want to beat everybody.”
Their recruiting class is comparable to a Calipari recruiting class. It was the No. 3 recruiting class in 2016’s 247 Composite behind Duke and Kentucky. Along with Bridges, Izzo signed 5-star shooting guard Joshua Langford (No. 20 overall), 4-star point guard Cassius Winston (No. 33 overall) and 4-star forward Nick Ward (No. 41 overall).
Bridges had 21 points, 7 rebounds and 4 turnovers in his debut against Arizona. The other three freshman combined for 14 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 turnovers.
Izzo has a Winning Record over the Cats
Izzo is one of the few coaches with a winning record over the Cats with five wins and two losses. Kentucky beat Izzo at Rupp in 1999 and in the Basketbowl at Ford Field in 2003. Their last matchup was my first Champions Classic. Julius Randle’s team lost to the Spartans in Chicago 78-74. Michigan State is the only team Kentucky hasn’t defeated in the Champions Classic.
The Spartans Broke My Heart
Patrick Sparks’ shot in the 2005 Regional Final was the greatest moment of my young fanhood. I was too young to remember the championships in the 90’s and to see Sparks scream at Billy Packer made me smile from ear to ear.
Then overtime happened and nothing was the same.