Old school versus new school.
Youth versus experience.
Michigan State vs. Kentucky.
A battle of programs.
Tuesday night’s matchup, set to tip off at 7:30 PM EST on ESPN, of the 2nd-ranked Michigan State basketball team (1-0) against the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats (2-0) will be exactly that.
On one end of the spectrum there’s Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans. A coach who, over the years has built his program around toughness, leadership, teamwork, and experience, with the likes of Mateen Cleaves, Kalin Lucas, and Draymond Green all sticking around for four years and being part of numerous Final Four runs.
This type of program has also allowed Izzo, coach of the MSU basketball team for 19 years, to hold a distinction no other coach can claim, and that is that every four year player under Izzo has made it to a Final Four. With that streak on the line this year and a very talented team on his hands, Izzo will be looking to get back there this year.
On the other hand you have Kentucky, a program led by one of the most polarizing coaches in college basketball: John Calipari. In his past, he’s led two other schools to the number one ranking, although NCAA sanctions have caused the accomplishments of both those teams to go away.
Still, say what you will about Calipari and his past, but there is no denying he’s a great coach and an even better recruiter. Talent flocks to the guy in unimaginable ways and has turned Kentucky basketball into a one year pit stop for NBA talent and one of the top teams in the country, year-in, year-out.
And of all the Kentucky teams over the past few years, this one looks to be deeper and more loaded than any of the rest of them, having brought in six All-Americans in his 2013 class, and four more of the nation’s top recruits already committed for next year.
“There’s seven first round draft picks on this team and they haven’t even played a college game yet,” Izzo said of the talent of the Kentucky squad at his press conference on Monday. “We laughed about it in meetings, there’s probably a ton of NBA teams without seven first round draft picks on their team.”
And while a lot of people are looking as this matchup as solely a talent versus experience matchup, Izzo brings up the point that that’s not so much the case and that Michigan State also has some talent riding on their side.
“I heard them say in Midnight Madness, talent usually wins out over experience. I’ll take talent every day,” Izzo said. “You gotta have play makers. You gotta have talent to do things. But I think one thing that is getting a little bit lost in the shuffle, we have some talent too. We don’t just have experience. We have talented experience.”
However, even with all the talent on Kentucky’s side, Calipari has certainly found out the hard way that these freshmen super teams don’t always pan out the way you’d expect them to. Look at last year for example. A year after winning the National Championship, the new crew of freshmen at Kentucky found themselves bounced in the first round of the NIT.
Compare this to Izzo’s program, where senior leadership and experience is returned every year and Michigan State hasn’t missed a tournament since 1997.
All things taken into consideration though, on Tuesday night college basketball fans will have the chance to see something that doesn’t come around very often.
And that is the top two teams in the country, both with varying styles coming from varying programs, will be squaring off early in the season in a prime time match up. It truly is a battle of programs.
And while the two programs do differ greatly from one another, it’s not to say either one is any better than the other. Both coaches have found ways to win in today’s game.
Calipari has just adapted and taken advantage of the system and Kentucky basketball is a product of that system while Izzo’s program has remained closer to college basketball’s roots.
“Talent does win out a lot of times,” Izzo said. “There is no question they (Kentucky) have the most talent in the country as far as skill and ability but they are young and it is early so we’ll have some advantages the other way. It’s gonna be fun to see which one pans out and that’s what I’m really looking forward to.”
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