BOZICH | Izzo's Task: Winning With Calipari's Crumbs - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Izzo's Task: Winning With Calipari's Crumbs

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Michigan State coach Tom Izzo says he doesn't have a recruiting rivalry with John Calipari because it's too one-sided. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo says he doesn't have a recruiting rivalry with John Calipari because it's too one-sided.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The Monday Rewind was primed to begin with something that Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari said about his team's pending game against mighty Michigan State. But it was so outrageous that nobody would believe it any more today than when Calipari said it last week.

If I'm going to deal in outrageous statements, it's better that I deal with fresh outrageous statements. It's time to let Michigan State coach Tom Izzo balance the message with the flip side of this UK-MSU game that will be played in Chicago Tuesday night. It is the opener in the Champions Classic. Kansas-Duke will follow.

Cal says this matchup is unfair to Kentucky because of the youth of his team, Tom. Are you bringing an extra box of Kleenex to the United Center?

"Cal's lucky," Izzo said. "I've got to go back and look at high school film. Everybody says, ‘Have you studied Kentucky?' What the hell are you going to study? I've got to go back and look at high school film and then they run different things than he's going to run.

"So he's got a big advantage. You can tell him I said that."

Consider him told. But don't you two have a bit of a rivalry crackling on the recruiting trail?

"There is no rivalry there because we're not winning enough of those battles," Izzo said.

"I can't talk about this year, but the last 3 or 4 years are enough that we're one or two in a million, so we're not batting a very good percentage. He's got that cornered really good right now."

But Kentucky was the first place that Adreian Payne visited after Calipari took over. He signed with MSU, where he's a senior. Kentucky also pursued Gary Harris in Indianapolis two years ago. Those are your two best players, Tom.

"Yeah," Izzo said. "At the end, they did (recruit Harris). AP a little bit at the beginning. That was when John was first there …

"We got two players they recruited. I'm not sure they recruited them at the same level, meaning: Are they their top guys? You can't have  a rivalry unless you win, I won't even say 50, but 40 percent."

A wink from Izzo.

"I appreciate you giving me a couple of crumbs."

You usually stir up an awfully tasty meal with crumbs, Tom. You're ranked second in most polls, and I have one pre-season magazine that ranked the Spartans number one. Your guys are predicted to be the best team in what is regularly the best league – the Big Ten.

"John's done a helluva job recruiting," Izzo said. "Those are the battles that matter to fans. The games are the battles that matter to the teams. We've got a chance to win that battle. The other one, I'm not doing very good."

DO THE SPARTANS HEAR THE HYPE?

You bet. Izzo's players have heard every word of the hype about Calipari's team. They've seen the magazine covers. They've caught the chatter about 40-0. They're aware that Calipari's freshmen are being considered his best recruiting class.

You'd expect the Spartans to play the "No Respect" card. They're not – at least not yet.

"We're definitely excited to play those guys," said Branden Dawson, MSU's junior forward. "They're the real deal. Those guys can play. Those guys are five-star. They have eight McDonald's all-Americans."

Actually, it's only seven on the current roster, but who's counting? I guess I am. Michigan State has three – Dawson, Harris and point guard Keith Appling. 

"They are a great team," Payne said. I've heard the hype. They're a great team."

"Nothing is going to be given to us," Harris said. "We have to go out there and take whatever we want."

The polls say Kentucky is the best team in the nation. The Spartans are the second-best team. Correct?

"As far as myself, my teammates and my coach, we really don't feed into the pre-season rankings," Dawson said. "That stuff really doesn't matter. Coach tells us all the time, when you're ranked higher, more teams are waiting to take you down."

Izzo, for one, is thrilled to be a part of the event, which will continue for three more seasons.

"Take this for what it's worth," Izzo said. "Don't make me look bad. But how many times are the one-, two-, four and six-ranked teams playing in a Final Four? It almost never happens. This will be a night of basketball for the purists.

"They're good teams. I hope we all live up to the expectations of it. I just hope it's as good as what I think it will be because I might even stay for the second game and just enjoy it."

Here are the records for the first two years: Duke 2-0; Kentucky 1-1; Michigan State 1-1; Kansas 0-2.

CHECKING ON OLD FRIENDS

Former Louisville forward Rakeem Buckles is healthy again and off to a dazzling start at Florida International. After three games, Buckles is leading FIU in points (17.7 per game) and rebounds (12). He's even launched nine three-point shots – and made three. Buckles sat out last season after transferring from U of L, missing out on the championship run.

Ryan Harrow, Kentucky's point guard last season, scored 20 points in 24 minutes for Georgia State. Harrow, who will face Vanderbilt Tuesday, also had six assists with only one turnover.

Former Indiana guard Maurice Creek made a pair of three-point shots and scored a dozen points for George Washington. Creek is a fifth-year senior who left IU after last season, but was eligible immediately because he earned his degree.

THE KIDS CAN PLAY

This is supposed to be one of the best collection of freshmen to move into college basketball in many years. The season is only three days old, but so far nobody has been disappointed by the play of the highest rated players in the Class of 2013.

Take a look at how the top 10 guys (according to the Scout.com rankings) have performed:

Andrew Wiggins, Kansas – Wiggins is learning about the world of great expectations. He gave the Jayhawks 16 points, 3 rebounds and 3 steals, and some people wondered if that was enough.

Julius Randle, Kentucky – Andrew Who? Randle has made his case that he's the best freshman in the nation by averaging 22.5 points and 15 rebounds while going to the foul line 27 times (and making 21).

Jabari Parker, Duke – It's been a few months since he made the cover of Sports Illustrated, but there has been no evidence of a jinx. Parker hung 22 points and 6 rebounds on Davidson and made all three of his three-point attempts. NBA scouts can't wait to watch him match up with Wiggins Tuesday.

Aaron Gordon, Arizona –  He's another guy capable of a double-double at any time, which made it no surprise he started with 13 points and 10 boards.

Andrew Harrison, Kentucky – He leads the Wildcats with seven assists and is also averaging 10.5 per game.

Aaron Harrison, Kentucky – He hasn't found his three-point shot (2 for 8) yet, but he's found other ways to average 13 per game.

Noah Vonleh, Indiana – He's not a true center, but Vonleh played the post for Indiana and gave Tom Crean 11 points and 14 boards, while blocking three shots.

Chris Walker, Florida – He is supposed to be eligible for the second semester. That's what Billy Donovan hopes.

Kasey Hill, Florida – The Gators' search for a point guard is over. Hill scored 15 points with four assists in Florida's opener.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona – Sean Miller only played him 21 minutes. He'll soon be getting more time because he gave the Wildcats 10 points and five boards.

POLL RESULTS

Here are the percentage vote totals from the question I posed last week:

Which local basketball newcomer will be the most valuable addition to his team this season?

 1. Chris Jones, Louisville 38 percent.

 2. Terry Rozier, Louisville, 28 percent.

 3. Julius Randle, Kentucky, 23 percent.

 4. Noah Vonleh, Indiana, 5 percent.

 5. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky; Troy Williams, Indiana, 2 percent each.

 7. Aaron Adeoye, WKU; other, 1 percent each.

 MY FOOTBALL TOP TEN

1. Alabama

2. Ohio State

3. Florida State

4. Baylor

5. Stanford

6. Missouri

7. Oregon

8. Clemson

9. Auburn

10. Oklahoma State

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