Cats, Spartans tip-off regular season in Champions Classic tonight


Kahlil Whitney scores a jump shot during the exhibition game against Kentucky State University on Friday, Nov. 1st, 2019, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 83-51. Photo by Breven Walker | Staff

Kameron Roach

College basketball is finally back. 

The top-ranked Michigan State Spartans will face off against the No. 2 ranked Kentucky Wildcats face off in the annual State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden tonight at 9:30 p.m.

The last meeting between the Spartans and Wildcats took place back in 2016’s Champions Classic. The then-No. 2 ranked Cats came out on top 69-48 over the then-No. 13 ranked Spartans. Then-Cats’ freshman Malik Monk stepped up big for the Wildcats, leading his team in scoring with 23 points on 7-for-11 shooting from three-point range. 

Michigan State’s Kyle Ahrens and Cassius Winston are the only two remaining players out of both teams that competed in that game. Since then, Winston has created his very own track record in East Lansing. Winston, last year’s Big Ten Player of the Year, was the only consensus selection on The Associated Press Preseason All-American team. He led the Spartans to a Final Four berth this past season while averaging 18.8 points and 7.5 assists per game. Ahrens missed the 2017-18 season with a foot injury. However, he is known to be a tough wing player and consistent offensive rebounder.

This year’s Michigan State team is returning junior Forward Xavier Tillman. In addition, the Spartans are looking to add depth to this year’s squad with the 27th nationally ranked recruiting class, according to 247 Sports, with freshmen Rocket Watts, Malik Hall and Julius Marble.  

Nevertheless, the Wildcats are bringing in a bit of experience and a heap of young talent. This year’s Kentucky team is returning guards Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley, along with forwards Nick Richards and E.J Montgomery. The Wildcat also enter this season with the second-best ranked recruiting class. It’s made up of Tyrese Maxey, Kahlil White, Keion Brooks, Johnny Juzang and in-state product Dontaie Allen. Not to mention, Coach John Calipari has found an all-around post player in graduate transfer forward Nate Sestina who comes in from Bucknell.

In the Wildcats’ recent annual Blue and White Game, the freshmen helped defeat the returning squad by a slight margin of one point. In Kentucky’s exhibition game against Kentucky State last Friday, Coach Calipari started Hagans, Sestina, Whitney, Maxey and Montgomery. Montgomery and Hagans were the only two veteran players who started the game. Who Calipari will choose to start in Tuesday’s matchup in The Big Apple is up in the air. Nick Richards may still very well play despite nursing an ankle injury he sustained against Georgetown College.

This highly anticipated game may come down to depth. Winston and Ahrens provide invaluable experience, but uncertainty looms over how the rest of Spartans’ head coach Tom Izzo’s team will perform on the big stage in Madison Square Garden. Last year’s Michigan State team made it all the way to the Final Four and certainly looks to outperform that finish this season.