Last night, all eyes were on Chicago as the #1 University of Kentucky Wildcats took on the #2 Michigan State University Spartans. The game had been hyped for months as being the best November game in the history of college basketball. The young guns versus the experience. Many thought Michigan State would win, as they did. However, after falling behind 10-0 in the early going, it looked as though the young Wildcats were going to roll over and give in to the pressure. The beating continued through halftime, where the ‘Cats were down by 12. What happened in the second half is a testament to sheer talent and will. These Wildcats clawed their way back into the game, using Julius Randle as the wrecking ball he is, and had it tied with under five minutes to go. Despite the loss, Kentucky has earned respect from members of the media. This team will be good, and they agree. Check out what they had to say below:
No, games such as this might be tough on the Wildcats, but they need them. They need to learn what works and what doesn’t, how much effort is demanded, how difficult success is to attain when there is someone really talented and determined seeking the exact same prize. There is so much they can gain from being embarrassed by their 0-10 start, the 32-44 halftime disadvantage, and then rallying from all that dysfunction to actually tie the game inside the final 5 minutes.
For months folks have debated whether these young Wildcats would be closer to the 2011-12 team that won the national title or the 2012-13 team that lost in the NIT, and I believe we learned, even in defeat, that the former will almost certainly be true. Again, the Wildcats lost; everybody realizes that. But the fact that they played so poorly and carelessly for roughly 30 minutes and still had a legitimate chance to beat a team as undeniably good as Michigan State this early in the season speaks volumes.
Which is precisely why there was no real loser Tuesday night, and not in the warm and fuzzy everyone-gets-a-ribbon-and-an-orange-slice way, either. Michigan State was more prepared, more experienced, and more precise, and the Spartans earned a victory they deserved — one that will come in handy when No. 1 seeds are on the line in March. But Kentucky wasn’t a loser, either. It was outclassed. Its defense ranged from bad to nonexistent. Its chief adjustment comprised “get the ball to Julius a bit closer to the basket,” and “Julius, go score.” And yet the fresh young Wildcats still nearly beat a veteran, athletic, talented Tom Izzo-coached team all the same.
And the scouts already have their favorites, though it’s a horse race whose leader will surely change every few games based on performance. Right now, from my conversations with scouts, it seems to be Parker and Randle. It’s basketball law that every legit prospect has to remind you of somebody else, and while there’s been wild speculation that Randle reminds folks of LeBron (no chance, none), I looked at Randle and saw Zack Randolph, the longtime veteran NBA forward who is relentless within 10 feet of the basket. OK, Randle is much more athletic than Randolph ever was, but it’s the way Randle bangs, his ability to get off shots with defenders draped all over him that make me think of ZeBo. When Randle hit his first seven shots of the second half, you could see folks nodding and saying, “Yep, he’s the real deal.” It didn’t matter that Randle seemed lost the first half, just that he demanded the ball like a pro in the second half, an old-school pro who somehow knows how to play with his back to the basket. It was a give-me-the-damn-ball performance in the second half when the kid hit 8 of 9. Everybody on a tough, defensive, Tom Izzo-coached team knew Randle would get the ball and nobody could do a thing about it.
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.