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Game 2: Kansas vs. Michigan State Preview

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Who: #4 (KenPom) Kansas (1-0) vs. #15 Michigan State (1-0)

Where: United Center, Chicago, IL

When: 9 PM Jayhawk time


As has become customary for Kansas, the Jayhawks first test of the season will come at the Champions Classic. This year's opponent is Michigan State, with the Spartans looking to avenge a 61-56 loss to the Jayhawks last season.

Michigan State rebounded last season, making it all the way to the Final Four, winning its first four tournament games by an average of just 5.75 points per game, before getting throttled by Duke in the national semifinals.

This season's Spartans team started quickly with an 82-55 win over a Florida Atlantic team that is roughly the quality of the Northern Colorado team the Jayhawks handled in their season opener.

The team

The Spartans played deceptively quickly last season: although they ranked just 245th in tempo, their average offensive possession lasted just 17.7 seconds, and just 18 seconds in Big 10 play, which was third fastest in the league. Generally Tom Izzo makes you think of toughness and rebounding (and good draws in NCAA tournaments) but Michigan State was merely good at rebounding last season rather than great (though they were much better in league play).

The Spartans scored just under 1.1 points per possession in Big 10 play to rank 4th in the league, and they ranked 6th defensively. With the absence of both Branden Dawson and Travis Trice, there is reason to believe Michigan State will take a step back offensively, at least in the early going.

One thing that will come into play immediately is that Michigan State blocked roughly 14 percent of its opponents shots in conference play to lead the Big 10, whereas Kansas was one of the worst power 5 teams at getting its shots blocked last season. Kansas might need to keep at it if it doesn't have success right away inside.

The Spartans might struggle a bit if this one is tight late: not only are they without departed senior Travis Trice to lead their offense, but Michigan State was one of the worst turnover forcing teams in the country and one of the worst foul shooting teams in the country last season, ranking worse than 300th in both measures. As we saw last season in the game in Austin, when a team doesn't actively force Kansas into turnovers, it makes the offense run much more smoothly.

Kansas will likely lose the battle on the glass, even with Michigan State being a relatively short team. The Jayhawks are just unreliable on the glass at this point. If Cheick Diallo is magically cleared, Kansas might rebound well, but otherwise it's tough to see it happening at this point.


The main guy to watch is Denzel Valentine. Valentine had a triple double in MSU's exhibition win, and had a 114.2 offensive rating on a 55.7 percent effective field goal percentage last season. He shot over 41 percent behind the arc, so whomever is on him will have to stick close as possible. Valentine has played over 100 career games, and any player with that kind of experience, even guys half as talented as he is, are guys to look out for.

Eron Harris is a guy who Spartan fans are incredibly high on. Even though he was awful in Michigan State's season opener, Harris had an impressive shot chart as a sophomore at West Virginia, and was a good outside shooter for the Mountaineers. Harris will bring some shooting to the Spartans, but it's worth noting he hasn't really offered much else as a player, so any hopes that he can develop into a Big 10 player of the year type player seem to be misplaced.

Freshman Deyonta Davis had a 39 percent offensive rebounding rate and a 24.4 percent block percentage in the Spartans' season opener, but obviously the quality of competition is about to ramp up considerably. Still, it's another threat that needs to be addressed tonight.

Bottom line

Right now the Jayhawks are better than the Spartans. Michigan State has a lot of talent, so come March the winner of this game is going to have a great looking win on its resume, but I think the Jayhawks have too much experience and talent. Kansas wins 77-70 thanks to some late free throws.