College Basketball Game of the Week: No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Kentucky
The college basketball season kicks off on Tuesday, and with it comes a clash between the top-ranked Michigan State Spartans and the No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats. The game will be played in Madison Square Garden as part of the annual Champions Classic.
Michigan State will be hoping to maintain its first ever preseason No. 1 ranking with a win against the highly skilled Wildcats. The Spartans have arguably the best returning player in the country in Cassius Winston. As a junior last year, Winston scored 18.8 points per game and posted 7.5 assists per game while leading Michigan State to the Final Four.
Opposite Cassius Winston will be Ashton Hagans, one of the few returning Wildcats. Hagans was awarded the SEC Defensive Player of the Year honor last season, and he will face possibly his toughest matchup of this season in Winston on Tuesday. The pressure will be put on Hagans to successfully defend Winston all game, as it will be a rare occurrence for Winston to be absent from the floor.
Much of the Spartans’ scoring output will likely depend on Winston as well, as they will be dealing with multiple injuries heading into this game. Michigan State will be playing without guard Joshua Langford, who is out with ankle and foot problems. Langford had the same issues last season, missing a total of 26 games. The Spartans will also be without incoming transfer Joey Hauser. Hauser came from Marquette and has yet to be notified of the condition of his eligibility.
While the Spartans have significant holes on their roster, Xavier Tillman will still be active for Tom Izzo’s squad. Along his teammate Winston, Tillman was one of the players named on the Naismith Trophy watch list. Tillman’s skills also make him a top contender for the Karl Malone Award, which is granted to the nation’s best power forward.
The Wildcats will be without a key player as well. Center Nick Richards is unlikely to play due to an ankle injury. Despite his absence, the Wildcats will have an additional guard, returning to compliment the defense of Ashton Hagans. Immanuel Quickley will be starting in the backcourt for the Wildcats, marking just the second occasion in Calipari’s time at Kentucky that he will have two starting guards returning.
Although Kentucky has some returners, the Wildcats are always expected to have a few one-and-done standouts. One player that fits this brand is Tyrese Maxey, the freshman combo guard from Garland, Texas. Maxey is an efficient scorer who will look to develop his game even further at Kentucky, as Maxey has a chance to be a lottery pick in the 2020 NBA draft.
In addition to Maxey, the Wildcats will also have incoming freshman Kahlil Whitney. Whitney is a freakishly athletic and versatile forward that will look to make an impact immediately. Whitney will play small forward quite often, but he can also be used in rotation with the starting guards.
Viewers should be in for a good one. Between the Cassius Winston-Ashton Hagans matchup and the electric young freshmen of Kentucky, the game should be extremely entertaining. The landscape of the college basketball season will be changed on the first night.
Prediction: Michigan State 75, Kentucky 68
Joseph Muscente is a sophomore majoring in public relations. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.