How Kentucky and Michigan State match up — with a game prediction:
▪ After struggling with his shot (4 of 14, 1 of 6 three-pointers) in Kentucky’s opening victory over Stephen F. Austin, freshman Malik Monk (13 ppg, 36 percent field goal shooting) found a better rhythm in game two vs. Canisius (5 of 11, 2 of 6). The ninth-rated player in the class of 2016 by Rivals.com, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound product of Lepanto, Ark., is the third guard in John Calipari’s three-guard lineup.
▪ Michigan State’s Matt McQuaid came back from summer surgery for a double sports hernia to score nine points, all in the second half, for the Spartans in their season-opening loss to Arizona. A 6-4, 200-pound sophomore from Duncanville, Texas, McQuaid is also a third guard. He hit five three-pointers and scored 17 points against Northwestern last season.
▪ Kentucky senior Derek Willis played well (15 points, five rebounds, three blocks, two assists) against Stephen F. Austin but struggled defensively against Canisius and logged only 16 minutes as a result. Because of Willis’ defensive woes Sunday night, it wouldn’t be surprising to see John Calipari go with freshman Wenyen Gabriel (6.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg) against Michigan State.
▪ A 6-7, 230-pound product of Flint, Mich., Miles Bridges was the 10th-rated player in the class of 2016 by Rivals. The freshman more than lived up to his billing against Arizona, scoring 21 points — hitting five of eight shots in the second half — and grabbing seven rebounds. Only Jay Vincent (25 points in 1977) ever scored more in his freshman debut at Michigan State.
Advantage: Michigan State
▪ After foul trouble limited Bam Adebayo to 15 minutes and only five points and one rebound against Stephen F. Austin, Kentucky’s 6-10, 260-pound freshman recorded his first career double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds) vs. Canisius. The Little Washington, N.C., product has had some trouble finishing around the rim, however, and he has made only 4 of 10 field goal tries this season.
▪ With knee injuries sidelining Michigan State big men Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter (a graduate transfer from UNLV), Kenny Goins is holding down the post. After coming to MSU as a preferred walk-on, the 6-6, 230-pound sophomore from Troy, Mich., established his playing credibility last season by getting 13 rebounds in 18 minutes in a win over Louisville. In spite of his lack of height, Goins is a capable post defender with a knack for scoring key buckets.
▪ UK’s Isaiah Briscoe has so far backed up talk that he has substantially improved his shot from a season ago. In the first two games, the 6-3, 210-pound sophomore is 15 of 24 from the floor (62.5 percent). After shooting 46 percent from the foul line in 2015-16, the Newark, N.J., product is 7 of 11 (63.6) this year.
▪ Michigan State senior Eron Harris, a transfer from West Virginia, earned Tom Izzo’s trust last season by establishing himself as a reliable defender. In his days playing for Bob Huggins, Harris was known as a scorer, averaging 17.2 ppg at WVU in 2013-14. The 6-3, 190-pound senior from Indianapolis averaged 9.3 ppg for MSU last season. He had seven points and four turnovers against Arizona.
▪ Kentucky freshman De’Aaron Fox had 12 points and 12 assists against Stephen F. Austin, then came back with 21 points, four rebounds and three assists against Canisius. A 6-3, 187-pounder from Houston, Fox is a jet in the open court. Look for Michigan State to try to force him have to execute in the half-court.
▪ Michigan State’s Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. is the best name in college basketball. A season ago, at Nassaua, Bahamas, he battled plantar fasciitis that first developed during a summer tour of Italy. The 5-10, 175-pound junior is healthy this season, and his late three-pointer vs. Arizona tied a game that the Wildcats then won just ahead of the final buzzer.
▪ Kentucky’s Issac Humphries, the 7-foot Australian sophomore, is averaging 7.5 points and six rebounds in only 13 minutes a game. Wenyen Gabriel, a 6-9 freshman, has hit six of 10 shots and is averaging 6.5 points. Senior guard Dominique Hawkins is a dogged defender who has four assists vs. one turnover in 16 minutes a game. If UK struggles to make outside shots, senior Mychal Mulder (3-of-5 on three-pointers this season) could get a call.
▪ Other than Duke and UK, no one had a more highly rated 2016 recruiting class than Tom Izzo and Michigan State. In addition to the 10th-rated Bridges, MSU signed swingman Joshua Langford (No. 20 by Rivals.com), point guard Cassius Winston (No. 29) and big man Nick Ward (No. 41). Against Arizona, the 6-8, 250-pound Ward had the biggest impact, scoring nine points and claiming four rebounds in only 14 minutes.
Michigan State’s Tom Izzo has single-handedly denied the state of Kentucky four Final Four trips. The MSU coach beat UK in the NCAA Tournament round of eight twice (1999, 2005) and has beaten Louisville in regional finals twice (2009, 2015). Izzo is 5-2 against Kentucky head-to-head and won the previous Champions Classic meeting against John Calipari and UK, 78-74, in Chicago in 2013-14.
Advantage: Michigan State
Kentucky 72, Michigan State 63