Champions Classic: What we learned

In this feature, we take a look at what we learned from Kentucky's 78-74 loss to Michigan State on Tuesday at the Champions Classic.

CHICAGO – What we learned from the Wildcats' 78-74 loss to Michigan State on Tuesday at the Champions Classic:

They Don't Just Hand You The Trophy:

We should have learned this lesson last season, but just because you stack one No. 1 recruiting class on top of another, it doesn't guarantee that Kentucky is going to cakewalk through the 2013-14 college basketball season. There had been a lot of chatter about No. 9 being a forgone conclusion and even some foolish suggestion of a 40-0 run, but that's been put in check now. Newsflash: there are several really good teams this season in college basketball. Kentucky may be the most talented among them and the favorite to cut down the nets in April, but we have to remember just how hard that is. History tells us the best team rarely ever wins the championship. It takes talent, chemistry – and perhaps the most overlooked aspects, a good draw and some favorable bounces – to win five games in a row against good teams in the tournament.

Free-Throw Shooting Was Bad, But…

We've been here before with some of John Calipari's teams, especially early in the season. Although there's no doubt that UK going 20-of-36 at the line cost them a win against Michigan State, it's way too early to panic. Kentucky's 2012 national championship team was 16-of-29 against Kansas in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden. The Cats made only 29 of 46 at the line over the next two games (including 6 of 15 by Anthony Davis) prompting the same concerns we're hearing now, but that team finished at a solid 72 percent for the season and delivered one of the most amazing charity-stripe performances we've ever seen (35 of 37) against Indiana in the Elite Eight. These current Cats are way too skilled to keep throwing up bricks at the line. Give ‘em some time. Now, about that transition defense…

Randle & The Will To Win:

It's been a long time since we've seen a player put the Cats on his back and almost single-handedly will them to victory like Julius Randle did in the second half against the Spartans. The effort came up just a little bit short, but it was a great sign for a Kentucky team that often did not have the will to fight last season. Last year's Cats would have likely been down 20-plus at the half and by even more when the final horn sounded. When the going got tough, Randle seemed to thrive. Instead of hanging his head or pouting, he was smiling, clapping and glaring at the would-be defenders, taking on all comers. He wound up dragging a few of his teammates along with him, giving UK a shot to pull off a nice comeback. Michigan State earned a hard-fought win, but most came away thinking the Cats would be a much tougher out should the two power programs meet again somewhere down the line.

Jeff Drummond has covered University of Kentucky sports for newspapers, magazines and online publications since 1988 and for FOX Sports since 2012. A Richmond, Ky., native, he currently resides in Lexington.

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