Atlanta, GA – A couple of powerhouse programs meet up in Atlanta, as the 21st-ranked Michigan State Spartans take on the seventh-ranked Kansas Jayhawks as part of the Champions Classic at the Georgia Dome.
The Spartans return to the U.S. following a season-opening matchup with the Connecticut Huskies at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The outcome wasn't exactly what Tom Izzo and his team expected, as the team rallied a couple of times but couldn't maintain a lead in the second half, falling to UConn, 66-62.
Bill Self's Jayhawks didn't have to travel in their season-opener and posted their 40th straight home-opening win with a 74-50 rout of Southeast Missouri State in the opening round of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.
Michigan State holds a 5-4 advantage in the series with Kansas. The teams last met in the 2008-09 campaign, actually twice, with Michigan State claiming both victories, a 75-62 win in East Lansing and a come-from-behind 67-62 victory in the Sweet 16.
The Spartans dug themselves in an early hole against Connecticut in the season-opener, but were able to battle back and actually take a couple of leads in the second half, only to relinquish them in a four-point loss to the Huskies. MSU outrebounded UConn 43-29 in the game, but shot a mediocre .375 from the floor overall, including a mere 4-of-17 from behind the arc. Keith Appling led three Spartans in double figures with 17 points. Branden Dawson added a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Gary Harris chipped in with 11 points. Center Derrick Nix was just 1-of-5 from the field and posted just six points, but did amass a game-high 11 rebounds. Strong rebounding is nothing new for this team, as the Spartans have led the nation in rebounding in four of the last 13 seasons and finished in the top 10 nationally eight times over that same span.
Kansas played in the National Championship Game a year ago and with three of those starters back in the fold, the hope in Lawrence is that another run to the Final Four is in the immediate future. It is a nice mix of youth and veteran leadership with the incumbents being joined by nine freshmen. Senior guards Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford will man the backcourt, while senior center Jeff Withey anchors the pivot. In the win over SEMO, Withey dominated the low post with a double-double with game-highs of 17 points and 12 rebounds. Perry Ellis just missed a double-double of his own with 15 points and eight boards, while Naadir Tharpe chipped in with 10 points off the bench. Kansas shot just .387 from the floor, a number weighed down by a poor 2-of-21 effort from three-point range. Still, the Jayhawks held SEMO to a mere .290 shooting and outscored the Redhawks 38-20 in the paint.