Michigan State vs. Kentucky game preview: Young clashes with old in Champions Classic

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

It is only one week into the season and already we have a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup on our hands.

The top two teams in the country face off in the regular season for the first time since 2008 when the Michigan State Spartans and Kentucky Wildcats open up the Champions Classic on Tuesday. The game will start at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Tennessee and Memphis were the last top two teams to play each other on Feb. 24, 2008, but a game featuring the two powerhouses so early in the season is a real treat. Michigan State-Kentucky marks the earliest the top two teams have ever met, topping when No. 1 Indiana beat No. 2 UCLA on Nov. 29, 1975.

Meet the Kentucky Wildcats

The young Wildcats squad has easily rolled over their first two opponents, but facing the Spartans will be a whole different beast. The Wildcats are a team of youth and potential, a contrast to a Spartans team of aging veterans who have proven their mettle.

The Kentucky freshmen have been exactly as they were advertised to start the season. Julius Randle has scored 23 and 22 in the first two games, and has looked like one of the best teams in the country. But the Wildcarts are still a team largely comprising freshmen and sophomores that has a few growing pains coach John Calipari will have to work around. In their season opener against the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs, the Wildcats trailed for the first nine minutes before taking the game over. A slow start won't be as easy to recover from against the Spartans.

Despite the enormous amount of talent on the team, Calipari is aware of their youth. They sometimes look a bit disjointed on offense, but Calipari has them buying into the defensive mindset. Kentucky is tenacious and have held its first two opponents to under 40 percent shooting from the floor. The Spartans have a tendency to turn the ball over, and Kentucky might be able to capitalize on that. Last season, the Spartans turned the ball over 489 times, good for 305th in the nation. Even in their laugher against McNeese State to open the season, Michigan State had 15 turnovers.

Meet the Michigan State Spartans

The Spartans might be one of the more familiar teams in the nation. Michigan State returns four of five starters from last season's Sweet 16 squad, and also return their top six of seven players in terms of minutes. They have one of the best backcourts with senior Keith Appling and returning Big Ten freshman of the year Gary Harris.

If their season opener against McNeese State is any indication, it is an easy case to claim the Spartans as the top team in the nation. The Spartans shot 52 percent from the floor and held the Cowboys to just 27 percent from field goal range. Virtually everyone touched the ball in the, 98-56, win with six players scoring in double digits.

Harris notched a double-double, scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to lead the Spartans. He added six assists as well, and the Spartans did exactly what veteran teams do -- make the extra pass for the open shot. The Spartans play selfless basketball, and although they have stars on the team, no one player truly shines much brighter than the others. This is evidenced by the spread of scoring against McNeese State and the fact that the Spartans notched 32 assists as a team. That is more than the Kentucky Wildcats have in their first two games combined.

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