by Tomas Lopez
The Michigan State Spartans coach Tom Izzo wasn’t pleased with his frontcourt after a surprising season-opening loss to rebuilding Connecticut. He’ll need his post players to bounce back quickly given the 22nd-ranked Spartans’ next opponent. Michigan State will face reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jeff Withey and 2011 national runner-up Kansas in the opening round of the State Farm Champions Classic on Tuesday in the Georgia Dome.
The Spartans failed to exploit an obvious mismatch against the inexperienced Huskies' frontcourt in a 66-62 loss in Germany. Seventh-ranked Kansas, meanwhile, opened with a 74-55 victory over Southeast Missouri State. This is the ninth meeting between schools with a combined 22 Final Four appearances and five national championships. It’s the first since Michigan State knocked off Kansas in the 2009 NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal before losing to North Carolina in the final.
Michigan State Spartans (0-1): Izzo's teams always play a stiff non-conference schedule and usually improve as the season progresses. And Michigan State, which returns four of its top six scorers, has nowhere to go up but after a dismal showing against the Huskies in Germany. The Spartans fell behind 20-6 early, shot 37 percent and committed 15 turnovers while allowing Connecticut to shoot more than 46 percent. The front-court combination of Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix, charged with helping to replace All-American Draymond Green, combined for 12 points and seven turnovers. On a positive note, guard Branden Dawson, who tore his ACL last March, had 17 points and seven rebounds and point guard Keith Appling added 17.
Kansas Jayhawks (1-0): Kansas is favored to win a ninth straight Big 12 title despite losing star forward Thomas Robinson to the NBA, and Withey's presence is a big reason. The 7-footer has become the Jayhawks' go-to player and he responded with 17 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks in the season-opening win. Withey is one of three returning starters who are joined by promising red-shirt freshman Ben McLemore (12 points, nine rebounds, five assists) and freshman Perry Ellis (15 points, eight rebounds). There's plenty of room for improvement after Kansas shot only 38 percent against the Redhawks, including 2-of-21 from 3-point range. Point guard Elijah Johnson, the team's leading returning scorer (10.2 points), played through foul trouble and finished with only four points on 1-of-5 shooting.
1. "I just thought that Payne looked out of it and I think it was because he was trying to maybe do what (Draymond) did at that position and he can't," Izzo told the Detroit News.
2. Withey set an NCAA Tournament record last season with 31 blocked shots in six games.
3. The winner plays the winner of Tuesday’s matchup between No. 9 Duke and No. 3 Kentucky.
NBA Basketball Prediction: Kansas 71, Michigan State 66.
adreian payne - ben mclemore - branden dawson - derrick nix - draymond green - elijah johnson - jeff withey - kansas jayhawks - michigan state spartans - perry ellis