Beating Kentucky was impressive, but what did I like the most about Michigan State basketball’s Champions Classic win?
Still can’t get over how impressive Tuesday night’s Michigan State basketball win was? Yeah, me neither.
Michigan State scoffed at all the doubters, following up a near-upset of No. 2 Gonzaga last Friday with a win over No. 4 Kentucky in double-overtime to pick up its fifth Champions Classic win.
It was one of those typical Tom Izzo wins where everyone seems to be doubting his team all offseason and all he does is play the nation’s No. 2 team down to the wire and beat the No. 4 team by nine points through the first three contests of the season.
Not too shabby.
I like a lot from the win over Kentucky and it’s hard to really narrow it down to three things, in particular, but I think everyone that played had a mostly positive effect on MSU’s win.
Here’s what I liked the most:
1. Mady Sissoko
I have to lead this off with Mady Sissoko because I’ve been driving his hype train all offseason long. I was called an idiot or laughed at when I said Mady was going to be a beast this year. Now look at the situation. He might be one of the best bigs in the Big Ten.
For a second straight game, he played some lockdown defense on a national player of the year candidate. Oscar Tshiebwe still scored 22 points and had 18 boards, but Mady made him work for everything as he shot just 50 percent from the floor and most of his buckets were on second-chance opportunities.
On the offensive end, he looked like prime Shaq at the end of the game, catching lob after lob from Tyson Walker, finishing with 16 points and eight boards.
The rise of Mady is happening, folks.
2. No one was shying away from the big shot, spotlight
Typically in a game like Tuesday night’s Champions Classic, guys will get some nerves and crumble under the pressure of playing in the spotlight. A year ago, we may have seen that happen to guys like AJ Hoggard, Joey Hauser, Tyson Walker, and Malik Hall. All four of those guys stepped up in the clutch with the lights shining the brightest against Kentucky.
AJ didn’t play his best game but he made the pass of the night on an inbounds play to Walker. Hauser played out of his mind after struggling against Gonzaga, scoring a game-high 23 points. Walker had a great finish to the game after a sloppy start, making some clutch shots and tossing some nice lobs to Mady. And Hall was just solid throughout, scoring 20 points.
When you have a team full of guys who love the spotlight and aren’t afraid of the big shot in a pressure-packed situation, you’re going to be scary good.
3. Stingy defense
Michigan State continues to show that it’s going to be a good defensive team this year, holding Gonzaga to 64 points last week and now keeping Kentucky under 80 in double-overtime.
When you have scrappy guards like Hoggard, Walker, Tre Holloman, and Jaden Akins mixed with willing post defenders like Hall and Sissoko, you’re going to have a really solid defense. That’s beginning to show as Walker and Hoggard don’t often get beat and if they do, Malik and Mady don’t give up easy buckets. Plus, Sissoko has played unbelievably well against Timme and Tshiebwe, so we know he can hold his own.
Tom Izzo has to be thrilled with this Michigan State basketball defense.