Nov 12, 2013, 11:57 PM EST
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.
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.
Nov 24, 2014, 9:00 AM EST
Look at how far away from the rim he takes off.
Nov 24, 2014, 7:00 AM EST
Putting together a top 25 this early is tough to do as we balance expectations with early season performance.
Nov 24, 2014, 1:10 AM EST
No. 1 Kentucky set a new school record, Ohio State’s Shannon Scott broke Aaron Craft’s single-game assist record and more.
Nov 24, 2014, 12:15 AM EST
‘Buckets’ earned his nickname because he gets … buckets.
Nov 23, 2014, 11:49 PM EST
A week that began with a win at No. 7 Florida ended with a commanding victory over Charlotte at the Gildan Charleston Classic.
Nov 23, 2014, 9:57 PM EST
West Virginia has better depth and toughness than they had a season ago, and those improvements paid off in Puerto Rico this weekend.
Nov 23, 2014, 8:55 PM EST
The 5-foot-10 guard has a standing vertical of 38 inches. That’s pretty good.
Nov 23, 2014, 8:10 PM EST
Kadeem Jack missed the first two games of the season with a thumb injury.
Nov 23, 2014, 6:55 PM EST
With Cullen Neal already dealing with an ankle injury, Arthur Edwards is the latest Lobo dealing with a health issue.
Nov 23, 2014, 5:34 PM EST
Rakim Lubin was averaging five minutes per contest in UConn’s first three games.
Nov 23, 2014, 5:16 PM EST
House scored 18 points, shooting 7-for-11 from the field, in Texas A&M’s 64-51 win over New Mexico.
Nov 23, 2014, 3:55 PM EST
Yale forward Matt Townsend was named a Rhodes Scholar this weekend, a rare honor only give to 32 American students each year.
Nov 23, 2014, 2:41 PM EST
Danuel House made his presence felt immediately for Texas A&M.
Nov 23, 2014, 2:10 PM EST
Oakland forward Tommy McCune had to overcome the loss of his mother after she lost her battle with cancer, but he’s shown flashes of great play early this season as he moves forward.
Nov 23, 2014, 1:10 PM EST
The high school ranks gave us a great dunk this weekend.
Nov 23, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
One of the best unsigned players in the 2015 class is down to three schools but then visited another school on Friday night.
Nov 23, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
Looks like Larry Nance Jr. is fully recovered from last season’s ACL injury.
Division III school makes buzzer-beating three-pointer against same opponent in back-to-back years (VIDEOS)
Nov 23, 2014, 10:00 AM EST
This is one of the wildest buzzer-beaters I’ve ever seen and the back story makes it that much more incredible.
Nov 23, 2014, 9:10 AM EST
Tournament action resumes on a busy Sunday of college hoops.
Nov 23, 2014, 3:56 AM EST
Concerns about Cook moving off the ball seem foolish through five games.
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- Quinn Cook is thriving as an off-guard, and No. 4 Duke will reap the benefits 0
- Rhode Island upsets No. 21 Nebraska, 66-62, in overtime 0
- Lauren Hill surprises teammates, fans with another layup in her second college game (VIDEO) 2
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- Pregame Shootaround: No. 14 Iowa State needs to be on upset alert tonight (3)
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