Skip to content

No. 1 Kentucky has talent (and time) to right what went wrong in loss to No. 2 Michigan State

Nov 12, 2013, 11:57 PM EST

20131112-225848.jpg Getty Images

CHICAGO — Big Blue Nation’s traveling posse will head to O’Hare or Midway or back down I-65 to Lexington disappointed on Wednesday morning.

The first showing of Kentucky’s world famous recruiting class on a national stage did not exactly go as planned, as the No. 2 Wildcats took a generally hard-fought, but at times mighty frustrating, 78-74 loss to No. 2 Michigan State on Tuesday night at the Champions Classic.

On paper, the loss looks bad, as Kentucky went just 20-for-36 from the free throw line and finished with eight assists and 17 turnovers. Throw in a 4-for-20 performance from beyond the arc, which includes a scorching 0-for-9 in the second half, and, well, that’s just not pretty.

That’s also the point.

Think about it like this: Kentucky probably could not have played worse in the first 15 minutes. They were down 10-0 in the first four minutes. They were down by 15 with five minutes left in the half. Michigan State’s two All-Americans, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne, were on fire. It looked like we were primed for a beatdown to kick things off in the United Center.

“That coulda been 25,” Kentucky head coach John Calipari said after the game. “It shoulda been 20 at half.”

But it wasn’t.

(MORE: Keith Appling came up big when Michigan State needed him)

For all the issues that the Wildcats had on Tuesday, for everything that went wrong in the first 20 minutes, Kentucky battled all the way back. They tied the game in the second half, erasing a 12 point halftime deficit despite missing 12 free throws in the final 20 minutes. They missed open three after open three, yet continued to slowly chip away at Michigan State’s lead. Despite a couple of seemingly back-breaking turnovers and momentum-killing bad shots, the only thing that could finally stop Kentucky’s surge was the final buzzer.

They did all that against a very well-coached, veteran Michigan State team with two future first round picks and a senior point guard playing his best game in recent memory that just so happened to enter this game as the No. 2 team in the country.

And all of that came in the first game that most of these guys have ever played at this level and with this much national attention.

Do you realize just how impressive that is?

“This kind of tournament is great for college basketball,” Cal said. “It is terrific for the teams. It’s just tough for a really young team. I knew we’d start that way.”

“They’ve never been in an environment like this. When guys get that, they get into themselves a little bit. It gets discombobulated. We just did stuff that shot ourselves in the foot. But that’s what kids like this are going to do.”

The bottom line is this: Julius Randle is a beast. He had 27 points and 13 boards and thoroughly dominated any and all of Michigan State’s big men in the second half, when he had 23 points and nine boards to spur the comeback. Randle did have eight turnovers, but that comes with the territory. This was the first time in Randle’s career he’s faced a team that is this talented and this well-coached in how to double-team the post. He’ll not only learn how to read where the double is coming from, he’ll develop a post move beyond just a simple spin — which was probably responsible for seven of those eight turnovers. 27 and 13 on an off-night? Yikes.

Randle wasn’t the only guy that showed promise. James Young had 15 points in the first half and 19 on the game. Alex Poythress finished with seven points, 12 boards (seven offensive) and three blocks. Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson did some good things when they were on the floor.

You weren’t being lied to when you were told that there is a ridiculous amount of talent on Kentucky’s roster, and it’s only going to get better as the season progresses.

The key, however, is going to be how the Harrison twins progress. Aaron, the shooting guard, was 1-for-7 from the floor. Andrew, the point guard, had 11 points and three assists, but committed four turnovers, took a couple of bad shots down the stretch and had noticeably poor body language. Kentucky needs that duo to provide leadership. Coach Cal needs them to be floor generals, facilitating offense and getting the Wildcats into their sets. He needs them to understand that their best offense is when the ball goes into the post.

We’re not quite there yet, which is part of the reason that Kentucky has not quite reached their potential yet.

The best news to come out of Tuesday? What Kentucky has more than enough of is time.

“I’ve got four months to get this right,” Cal said.

Latest Posts
  1. Charges faced by Minnesota’s Daquein McNeil are quite serious

    Nov 26, 2014, 9:00 AM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    He was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault.

  2. Late Night Snacks: Nova holds off Michigan, Maryland upsets Iowa State, Arkansas gets big road win

    Nov 26, 2014, 12:10 AM EST

    Progressive Legends Classic Getty Images

    Another busy night of college hoops as the Maui semifinals wrap up and Arkansas gets a statement road win.

  3. Maryland upsets No. 13 Iowa State as fearless freshmen mix with gritty veterans for balanced effort

    Nov 25, 2014, 11:50 PM EST

    maryland AP

    Maryland pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the young season as they outplayed No. 13 Iowa State for much of the game in front of a pro-Cyclone crowd in Kansas City.

  4. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s selflessness during the Maui Invitational will help No. 3 Arizona in the long run

    Nov 25, 2014, 10:18 PM EST

    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson AP

    As Arizona has struggled to find consistent offense early in the 2014-15 season, the consistency and selfless nature of sophomore forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has allowed Sean Miller to experiment with what works early.

  5. Kansas head coach Bill Self shuffling starting lineups to send message to players

    Nov 25, 2014, 7:45 PM EST

    Bill Self

    Kansas head coach Bill Self is trying to get through to his players by changing starting lineups.

  6. Barclays Center Classic will air on NBC Sports Network on Friday night

    Nov 25, 2014, 5:55 PM EST

    NBCSN

    The Barclays Center Classic doubleheader will air on Friday night on NBC Sports Network.

  7. Providence could be without two key players for multiple games

    Nov 25, 2014, 5:20 PM EST

    AP AP

    The Friars could be depleted on the perimeter against two tough opponents.

  8. Minnesota suspends sophomore guard after arrest for domestic violence

    Nov 25, 2014, 4:24 PM EST

    Richard Pitino AP

    Minnesota will take a hit to its back court with this suspension.

  9. Rick Pitino on blow out win: ‘We played four white guys and an Egyptian’

    Nov 25, 2014, 2:58 PM EST

    AP AP

    I hope his joke doesn’t make people ignore the fact the he really felt bad about this.

  10. Player of the Year Power Rankings: A familiar face on top, but a few surprises behind him

    Nov 25, 2014, 1:18 PM EST

    Frank Kaminsky (AP Photo) Frank Kaminsky (AP Photo)

    Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor are near the top, but the rest of the top five may surprise you.

  11. Report: Oregon’s Dwayne Benjamin out tonight against VCU

    Nov 25, 2014, 12:27 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Benjamin hurt his ankle against Michigan.

  12. #POSTERIZED: Jason McManamen unloads on FAMU defender (VIDEO)

    Nov 25, 2014, 10:30 AM EST

    GoWyo.com GoWyo.com

    Jason McManamen is trying to prove Billy Hoyle and Sidney Dean wrong.

  13. Ricky Doyle secures 70-63 win for No. 19 Michigan over Oregon in Legends Classic

    Nov 25, 2014, 9:00 AM EST

    AP AP

    Michigan was dominated on the glass, but the freshman forward stepped up to ice the victory.

  14. Villanova’s win is evidence of why VCU may have peaked as a basketball program

    Nov 25, 2014, 7:00 AM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Can a team that runs a pressing system truly be one of the nations elite?