John Clay: Champions Classic a great recruiting tool

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 13, 2013 

Kentucky coach John Calipari talked to his team in the final minute against Michigan State on Tuesday.


Random (Championship Classic) notes:

After his team's 78-74 win over Kentucky, Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo said he thinks Kentucky will get a lot better.

He also said, "I think my team will get a lot better, too."

If that's the case, can't wait for a possible April rematch.

Kentucky Coach John Calipari said it best in the post-game news conference. You miss 16 free throws, you deserve to lose.

Kentucky took 36 free throws, made 20 in Tuesday night's loss to Michigan State. That won't get it done.

The last time UK shot 20 or more free throws and shot less than 56 percent from the foul line was in 2010, when UK went 16-for-30 against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament.

The Cats won that game, 74-45, but it was against a lesser team and those type of victories don't come around too often.

Some of the body language from some of the younger players has to go. For example, players placed hands on the head as if in disbelief after being called for a foul. That just feeds the other team.

There is a reason the teams involved renewed the Champions Classic for three more years. Look at Tuesday's showcase of talent. If that isn't a recruiting tool, I don't know what is. Players will want to play in this event.

Calipari said in the pre-season that if he only wanted to win he would play Julius Randle down low under the basket, but that he wanted to develop Randle as a player so the fabulous freshman would play outside.

In the second half Tuesday, with UK clawing to get back in the game, Randle was under the basket.

So far, this has the makings of an excellent offensive rebounding team. In each of its first three games, Kentucky has taken advantage of at least 45 percent of its offensive rebound chances. That's an excellent percentage.

An overlooked Tuesday stat: UK made just four of 20 three-pointers. The Cats were 0-for-9 from beyond the arc in the second half.

As Jay Bilas pointed out via Twitter, on a night in which freshmen got much of the attention — deservedly so — Michigan State senior Keith Appling scored 22 points, grabbed eight rebounds, was credited with eight assists and made four steals.

In the post-game news conference, Appling said it was a great win, but "we know we didn't really accomplish anything because it's a long season."

Tom Izzo interrupted the senior, saying, "Didn't accomplish anything? What the heck are you talking about?"

I'm all-in on the new rules, or the emphasis on enforcing the old rules.

Yes, Tuesday night's game went long with all the foul calls and free throws. But the teams will adjust and the game will be cleaner and the better for it.

Calipari told Alex Poythress to concentrate on what the sophomore does best. Poythress is doing it: 32 rebounds in three games.

Now healthy, Michigan State sophomore Gary Harris will be fun to watch.

UK's Marcus Lee got on the floor for one minute Tuesday. He would be starting on many of the teams in the current Top 25. Right now.

Michigan State claimed the game was called differently in the second half.

"The second half, the game changed, (and) the officiating changed," Adreian Payne told "It did, it changed a lot, and that took a hit on me. I couldn't be as physical, and I couldn't keep him off the blocks, so it was kind of difficult."

"Him" was Julius Randle.

And after Randle went for 27 and 13 in Tuesday night's first game, Duke's Jabari Parker scored 27 points and grabbed nine rebounds and Kansas' Andrew Wiggins scored 22 and snatched eight in the second game.

It's going to be a great season.

John Clay: 859-231-3226. E-mail: Blog: Twitter: @johnclayiv.

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