College basketball is taking off all over the nation this week, but the two matchups in Atlanta on Tuesday night are the most important games to keep an eye on.
It starts at 7:05 p.m., with the Michigan State Spartans taking on the Kansas Jayhawks.
Michigan State is coming off a disappointing game Friday against Connecticut. Yes, the Spartans were playing at an American military base in Germany, so they had to travel a long way — but so did Connecticut.
Michigan State’s biggest shortcomings came on the boards. The hallmark of every really good Michigan State team under coach Tom Izzo is rebounding, but the Spartans were outworked on the glass, especially on the offensive end, by the Huskies. Connecticut outworked the Spartans and got a lot of second-chance points on the way to a win.
Michigan State will need to work harder and play better to beat a Kansas squad that has lost a few key players but is still expected to win the Big 12 Conference. The Jayhawks have won at least a share of the regular-season Big 12 title over the past eight seasons — a record of ridiculous success. Coach Bill Self will find a way to get his younger lineup to mesh on the court, and that will help the Jayhawks beat back the Spartans in the first game of Tuesday’s same-site doubleheader.
At 9:35 p.m., fans are in for another treat of perennial heavyweights, this time with Duke taking on Kentucky.
This is a situation in which the venue is likely to matter. If this game had been played in New Jersey, Duke — with its huge fan base in the northeastern corner of the U.S. — would have enjoyed a partisan crowd. But Atlanta is a big magnet for Kentucky basketball fans. The city was nicknamed “Catlanta” this past March, when Kentucky won the South Regional by beating Indiana and then Baylor.
Kentucky is an extremely young and re-made team after its starting five from 2011-2012 went to play in the pros. But the Wildcats will play with great energy, and that’s how they’re going to work their way past the Blue Devils, who do not play defense or rebound with the same hunger.
This is going to be a game that requires a lot of energy at both ends of the floor, and Kentucky is going to have more of it over a 40-minute stretch. Kentucky will also take away Duke’s perimeter offense, making the Blue Devils a much more limited team.