Michigan State vs. Kentucky: 2022 Champions Classic game preview, TV schedule

Michigan State and Kentucky will meet in Indianapolis in the Champions Classic in the first game of the event that usually kicks off the season.

The Champions Classic typically opens college basketball every season. It is a celebration of the sport returning and it always returns with style. The event between Michigan State, Kentucky, Duke, and Kansas always showcases some of the best talent that the sport has to offer. This season, however, the event will occur on the ninth day of the season. Both Michigan State and Kentucky have multiple games under their belt and the Spartans, while in a weird environment, have had their first test already.

How does Michigan State bounce back?

The Spartans went wire-to-wire with Gonzaga Friday night on the USS Abraham Lincoln but ultimately fell short at the end. Michigan State led by seven at the half, but Gonzaga could work the ball into Drew Timme and fight through a tough shooting night from the outside.

One of the things that Michigan State does have going for them is that Kentucky will likely not be scouting the defense that Michigan State is going to show. Tom Izzo’s defensive game plan was simply to go under ball screens and make Gonzaga shoot threes that were destined to miss on a windy carrier deck. Expect to see much more of Michigan State’s bigs hedging screens.

On offense, Kentucky should be prepared for the usual with Izzo’s teams. He loves to push the ball and get the defense backpedaling and this year, he’s got two guards in Tyson Walker and A.J. Hoggard that can execute that. The Spartans will also very likely shoot better without the wind in San Diego impacting the game. Look for a potential breakout night from Jaden Akins off the bench as they definitely have the advantage inside against Mady Sissoko and Malik Hall.

Kentucky’s redemption tour

The Wildcats are 2-0 with two blowout wins over Howard and Duquesne, but the Virginia arc for Kentucky could really take off at the Champions Classic. Kentucky brings back a handful of players from a team that nearly snagged a one seed last year and added some key freshmen and an important transfer.

John Calipari’s team battled injuries in the first week of the season as Oscar Tshiebwe and Daimion Collins missed both of Kentucky’s games. Sahvir Wheeler also missed the opener against Howard. There is currently no official update on Tshiebwe or Collins’ status for Tuesday, but regardless, Kentucky should be a favorite in this game.

If Tshiebwe were to play, the team will try to exploit Michigan State’s thin interior depth inside. While Sissoko played great on Friday, Timme still had a fantastic game in the low post and a healthy Tshiebwe could be just as effective down there. Kentucky has also gotten solid production from the outside with Antonio Reeves and C.J. Frederick shooting the ball extremely well. Spacing was a concern for Kentucky with Kellan Grady’s departure in the offseason. If Reeves and Frederick shoot the ball well, it can make guarding Tshiebwe that much tougher.

The Matchups that both teams can exploit

Michigan State has two really dynamic guards that are accustomed to playing Izzo’s style at this point. UK has two guards in Wheeler and Reeves that had their troubles defensively last year. If Michigan State is able to get up and down in transition, that could be where they take control of the game. For Kentucky, even without Tshiebwe, playing through Jacob Toppin in the low post could be a challenge for Michigan State defensively.

Michigan State obviously has played a team that is the quality of Kentucky, but it was under weird circumstances. The Spartans’ defense and the Wildcats’ injury questions could make both teams a really tough scout. Overall though, Kentucky’s talent and depth should win out in Indianapolis on Tuesday.

Prediction: Kentucky 74, Michigan State 66