During the off-season big time college basketball resonates throughout the nation at decibels that initially are too subtle for the average human ear to key in on. But as those whispers rise to a deafening roar, rabid basketball fans explodes from his slumber on the first official day of the NCAA basketball season. They don body paint and seal themselves in a tomb dedicated to HDTV and nacho cheese dips. Hooting and hollering is the preferred method of communication for this archaic ritual. On November 12, it came to a head as the No. 1 ranked Kentucky Wildcats and its stable of freshman phenoms was slated to take on the No. 2 Michigan State Spartans in a rare early season contest matching the first and second ranked teams in the nation at the Champions Classic. Michigan State jumped out to an early 10 point lead and all in Wildcat nation let out a collective "Uh-Oh" as super-fresh PF Julius Randle appeared to struggle against the veteran front line of the Spartans early on. But it didn't take long for him to get rolling. Randle is listed as the third best collegiate basketball player in the nation behind SG Andrew Wiggins of the University of Kansas and SF Jabari Parker of Duke University. Though each of these players showed their NBA pedigree on Tuesday night as well, Randle could easily make an argument that he out-shined them all in a loss. He would finish with 27 points and 13 rebounds in a monstrous performance. Despite the work he put in, Kentucky head coach John Calipari was critical of this talented big man.
“Well what happens is, this kind of tournament is great for college basketball. It is terrific for the teams. It’s just tough for a really young team. I knew we would start that way. I told the staff. I said, ‘Let’s just hope it’s not 15-0 nothing, but I bet you it gets to 12.’ And we still, throughout the game, instead of that one extra pass, we held the ball," said Calipari after the loss. "Julius had eight turnovers for one reason: he held the ball. Then he tried to go against five guys. You can’t play basketball that way. The ball moves and then you attack. And when the ball doesn’t move; you hold it and then attack, because you’re attacking five guys. And I kept saying it over and over."
The Wildcats incoming freshmen are alleged to be the best freshman recruiting class ever assembled. Six of them were McDonald's All Americans. And all are considered future NBA lottery picks. Michigan State's superior guard play appears to have been the difference in the game. Otherwise, young Mr. Randle was abusive in his disdain for what appeared to be puny Spartan defenders. The 6'9" lefty dug deep and carried the Wildcats for most of the second half. It was apparent that no one wearing a forest green jersey was able to stop him. Fade away jumpshots with defenders hanging all over him, rebounding in heavy traffic, the ability to finish with both hands around the basket, the quickness to explode back up in the air repeatedly for rebounds and blocked shots. Man, Randle had it all on display last night. Kentucky won the battle of the boards 44-32. But that simply wasn't enough against a veteran Spartans team led by senior Keith Appling. He would finish the game with 22 points, 8 assists and 8 rebounds in helping will his team to a 78-74 win.