Scouting Kentucky versus Michigan State 

November, 11, 2013

Calipari-IzzoUSA TODAY SportsJohn Calipari and Tom Izzo are set to match wits in the Champions Classic.
Tuesday night's Champions Classic in Chicago will feature four of college basketball's elite programs, and four of the top five teams in the AP Top 25. The two matchups will showcase some of the nation's best returning players, as well as some of its most highly touted freshmen.

I've drawn up scouting reports on every team, the way I would if I were coaching against these teams, and included keys to the game for each matchup.

Here is my breakdown of the No. 2 Michigan State Spartans versus No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). You can also check out my in-depth look at No. 5 Kansas Jayhawks versus No. 4 Duke Blue Devils (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Scouting the Spartans

Tom Izzo has a mature, physical team that is invested in winning. Izzo's teams also defend and rebound, but the coach has said this season that he'll be committed to pushing the pace. He has a roster capable of attacking the defense, but how will the Spartans adjust to that style of play? Playing faster can't come at the expense of taking good shots and establishing a low-post presence.

Four-year starter Keith Appling is a key for the Spartans at the point. He must be a committed play starter and playmaker, but not MSU's primary scoring option, even though he led the Spartans in shot attempts last season. Izzo needs him to get the ball to Gary Harris in transition and off penetration and find Adreian Payne in early post-ups and as a trailer in transition. Appling needs to stay aggressive in looking for his own shot, especially in transition, but most importantly he needs to manage the game and make good decisions.

[+] EnlargeHarris
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesGary Harris is one of college basketball's top all-around players.
Payne is a unique talent. He runs the floor, can score on the block and can knock down the 3 off of pick-and-pops and off the high spread-ball screen. It will be interesting to see how Izzo uses his versatility offensively. Hybrid forward Branden Dawson (6-foot-6, 230 pounds) is another vital member of the Spartans. Now fully recovered from his ACL injury, he is a high-energy player who is a hard cutter and is relentless on the offensive glass. He has the ability to extend plays.

Harris is the most talented player on the Spartans. He plays the game with the moxie and pace of a seasoned veteran. He is a shot-maker who does an excellent job of reading screens, and he uses his shot fake to set up his drive. He is physical and is strong enough to play through contact.

Izzo has a rotation that goes eight or nine deep. Matt Costello, Gavin Schilling and Alex Gauna will need to provide consistent post play, Travis Trice is a skilled and versatile guard who can play either backcourt position, can shoot the ball with range and can provide solid defense on and off the ball, and Denzel Valentine can create plays for teammates with his excellent strength and vision.