Kentucky basketball saw the return of its stud Oscar Tshiebwe who once again moved mountains, but his teammates were shades of the past John Calipari teams in losing a double-overtime dud 86-77 to Michigan State in the State Farm Champions Classic.
Tshiebwe had not stepped foot on the floor through two exhibition games and two regular season games and was a game-time decision on playing expected to play in spurts. Instead, the reigning National Player of the Year played 34 minutes scoring 22 points, grabbing 18 rebounds, blocking 4 shots, and handing out two assists.
Unfortunately for Kentucky he fouled out and didn’t play the second overtime.
Kentucky (2-1) wilted under the crafty offense and punishing defense that Michigan State (2-1) coach Tom Izzo drew up and was left flatfooted and stunned. Ghosts of past John Calipari Kentucky teams.
The Champions Classic is now in its 11th season and features rotations between Kentucky, Michigan State, Duke, and Kansas. The Wildcats are now 4-7 in those including 1-6 in the past seven seasons.
Calipari addressed some of the issues after the game including his team’s inability to finish off the Spartans.
"“We weren’t ready. We’re not ready for teams that can finish off games. We haven’t had time, we haven’t had the team here. Some of it is on me, and in a game like this, they executed better than we did. That’s on me.”"
Of the things that went wrong, none are alarming and can easily be fixed. Kentucky has the talent, skills, and plenty of time to work on them after all we are only 3 games into the season.
The frustrating thing is that it’s like a scratched record that keeps skipping and irritates you to death – in this case, it’s ALL of Big Blue Nation.
On the surface it was a good game the two teams battled back and forth all game long using runs to take leads and catch up. It’s the way you want to watch a game and have it come down to the end with your team in a position to win.
Unfortunately for Kentucky basketball they gave it away and watched their opportunities slip away.
Here is a quick takeaway of what went right and what went wrong.
What went right for the Kentucky basketball team was Oscar was back
When you ask what went right for Kentucky it all points to the return and play of Tshiebwe.
Calipari was leaving much of Tshiebwe’s playing time up to how his big man was feeling throughout the game.
Nothing was going to keep Tshiebwe off the floor and on the bench – except 5 fouls.
He exited dejected after a moving screen drew the whistle for foul number five. His rebounds were the most ever by a UK player against Michigan State.
Cason Wallace is going to be a star just like Tshiebwe night in and night out. The freshman played 44 minutes ringing up 14 points, five rebounds, five assists, and eight steals. We are going to have to start calling him “the pickpocket”. He tied the UK record for most steals by a player in a game held by Ashton Hagans, Rajon Rondo, and Wayne Turner.
I’ll add Sahvir Wheeler here just because he had 16 points, eight assists, and two steals. However, he could just as easily slide below due to just 6 for 16 shooting, ill-advised forcing of passes and shots and genuinely trying to do too much at the wrong time.
What went wrong in the defeat was poor defense, coaching, and inexperience
There were several glaring deficiencies that you could look at that despite it being a new team a few haunting stats and all too familiar problems still linger.
The simplest stat that led to the loss was in the final 4:00 of the game Kentucky did not make a field goal clanking all six attempts. Meanwhile, in the closing 3:39, they allowed Michigan State to outscore them 13-1.
Jacob Toppin was expected to have a breakout season. Poised to take that giant leap to the next level and seize this team and help carry them to March Madness and possible National Championship.
Despite being sidelined with two early fouls, which he can’t let happen, Toppin did manage to play 31 minutes. Unfortunately, he produced just 10 points, four rebounds, and four fouls. When Tshiebwe went to the bench Toppin needed to be the man – but he wasn’t.
Free throw woes could have led Kentucky to the victory in regulation and the first overtime, but they made just 16 of 24 which led to their demise. The Spartans connected on 23 of 27.
The defense had major lapses where they simply got outplayed and looked lost. Michigan States’ front line produced 59 of the 86 points.
Inbound plays that were drawn up by Izzo, who actually credited his assistants for drawing them up, were so much better than Calipari whose team could not defend getting caught off guard. Conversely, when Kentucky came out of timeouts with the ball they turned the ball over or took bad shots.
Raise your hand if you have seen this before.
Kentucky will be back at practice tomorrow to work on these things preparing for South Carolina State this Thursday at 7 PM EST on the SEC Network.