Kentucky-Michigan St. Preview

The Associated Press

Kentucky is the top-ranked team in the country, but coach John Calipari wants to test his young Wildcats.

Tom Izzo regularly does that to Michigan State.

In the earliest meeting between the nation's top two teams, the Wildcats and the No. 2 Spartans may already be looking toward March on Tuesday night in Chicago as they face each other for the first time in eight years.

Kentucky (2-0) has had little trouble to start this season, winning two games by an average of 31.0 points after routing Northern Kentucky 93-63 on Sunday.

The Wildcats hit 54.5 percent from the floor while holding a 51-23 rebounding advantage over the clearly overmatched Norse.

Doing that against Michigan State seems highly unlikely.

Like Kentucky, the Spartans dominated in every facet Friday, winning 98-56 over McNeese State in their season opener. They scored 52 points in the first half and finished with a 66-29 edge on the boards.

Calipari is planning on using this meeting with Michigan State as a learning experience for his team, which includes six freshmen who are possible lottery picks in next summer's NBA draft.

"It's a hard game to play this early," he said. "This is not like you're going to steal, sneak by. You're going to have to ball.

"For us, it's just a bar of where we are right now. We've got a long way to go. ... We're still trying to figure out how to play fast, how to get in the lane, how to post up, how to cut. Trying to figure out defensively how we need to play. We're still not right."

Julius Randle certainly looks fine. The heralded freshman forward, the possible No. 1 overall pick next June, has totaled 45 points and 29 rebounds while hitting 12 of 19 field goals.

Still, he's not happy about going 21 for 27 from the line - 10 for 14 on Sunday.

"I'm still missing some opportunities," Randle said. "(There were) a lot of balls I didn't come up with. I just have to learn from it and improve."

Twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison are also off to strong starts to their respective - and likely brief - collegiate careers. The starting guards have combined for 47 points through two games.

Despite Kentucky's inexperience, Izzo is looking forward to the matchup.

"We're going to have some problems with (Kentucky) matching up and they might have some problems with us," he said. "(Kentucky) looks like an NBA team. It's a big, big team. Talented team. Well-coached team. Can't wait.

"No matter what the outcomes of the games are, I think all teams will benefit in some way, shape or form."

Izzo regularly schedules tough opponents in the hopes that it'll pay off come tournament time. This season, Michigan State also faces 12th-ranked North Carolina and Texas.

"It prepares us for the tournament," senior guard Keith Appling said. "A lot of the teams we play in our non-conference season are some of teams that we'll end up playing in the tournament. Or are teams that are similar to these teams we'll be playing. So I feel it helps us out in the long run, and also prepares us for the tough Big Ten season."

Gary Harris is trying to build on his 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists from Friday, while Appling had 11 points, six boards and four assists.

The Spartans could use continued production off the bench from juniors Travis Trice and Branden Dawson, who combined for 23 points, 17 rebounds and 13 assists against McNeese State.

Michigan State beat the Wildcats 94-88 in double-overtime of the most recent matchup, which earned the Spartans a spot in the 2005 Final Four.

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