Orlando, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - A couple of elite programs get together in the title game of the Orlando Classic on Sunday, as the 11th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks mix it up with the 20th-ranked Michigan State Spartans.
Except for a 72-40 blowout loss to top-ranked Kentucky in the second game of the season, everything has gone as planned for Kansas, which currently enjoys a three-game win streak. The current run began with an 87-60 thrashing of Rider, continued with a 76-60 win over Rhode Island and was extended on Friday with an 82-67 triumph over Tennessee in the semifinals of this event.
As for the Spartans, they are seeking an early-season championship for the second season in a row after capturing the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic last season. Outside of an 81-71 loss against Duke in the second game of the campaign, MSU is again off to a very strong start and is currently riding a four-game win streak. On Friday the team took out Marquette, 79-68.
The Spartans lead the all-time series by a count of 6-4, winning three straight and four of the last five encounters with Kansas. The most recent victory came in the 2012 Champions Classic in Atlanta by a score of 67-64.
Perry Ellis controlled the paint for the Jayhawks in the latest outing on Friday, producing a double-double which consisted of 24 points and 13 rebounds, both of which were game highs. So strong was the presence of Kansas State near the rim, the team ruled on the glass by a 44-22 margin and had almost as many offensive rebounds (18) as Tennessee had total.
Cliff Alexander accounted for 16 points, Wayne Selden Jr. 12 and Frank Mason III 11 points, seven assists and six boards as the team survived 16 turnovers versus the Volunteers.
As one of three players to have started all five games in the early going, Ellis leads the Jayhawks with both 15.0 ppg and 6.6 rpg, but really this is a team that is built on balance with only one other player (Alexander) scoring in double figures with his 10.4 ppg. Like Ellis, Alexander is also someone who works hard along the front line with his 5.6 rpg while shooting almost as well from the floor (.630) as he is at the free-throw line (.643).
Key to the victory for MSU over Marquette was the fact that the Spartans connected on 63.6 percent from 3-point range in the second half and at the same time limited the Golden Eagles to just 33.3 percent. Denzel Valentine tallied a career-high 25 points for the Spartans as he knocked down six of his 10 chances on the perimeter, while Travis Trice tacked on 19 points and also found opportunities to deliver seven assists. Marvin Clark Jr. pitched in with another 10 points as the Spartans shot an impressive 57.8 percent from the floor and 12-of-23 (.522) beyond the arc.
At the offensive end of the floor, Trice is pacing three players in double figures with his 16.8 ppg, shooting 43.6 percent on the outside and also coming up with 39 assists, against a mere eight turnovers. Valentine, who is also trying his hand at getting the ball to teammates in scoring situations, has 26 assists in six starts, but has also been plagued by 23 turnovers as he tries to augment his 14.5 ppg.
As a group, the Spartans are putting up 76.2 ppg on the strength of 51.5 percent accuracy from the floor, including 43.0 percent on the outside, and at the same time limiting foes to only 59.5 ppg.