Calipari: Cats will be tested by Michigan State's rugged style in Champions Classic

For a Kentucky team that has been outrebounded by five in its first two games of the season, John Calipari knows the kind of challenge the No. 2 Wildcats face on Tuesday night in the Champions Classic.

“Physical play," the UK boss said of Michigan State's trademark style. "... They set great screens. Offensive rebound, they absolutely jam you in the back and they’re coming. There’s no, ‘Let me try to get around you.’ It’s mush mouth around that goal, and they go for balls. They play like his (Tom Izzo) teams play."

It's the first marquee game of many this season for the young Wildcats, who face the No. 13 Spartans (0-1) in a 7:30 p.m. ET tipoff at Madison Square Garden. Michigan State opened the season with a hard-fought 65-63 loss to No. 10 Arizona. 

Asked how his freshman-dominated roster might handle an expected physical matchup, Calipari joked "I have no idea... They may pee down their leg. I just have no idea because there are some tough matchups."

After Sunday's 93-69 win over Canisius, Calipari suggested he may make a change at the 4 position after senior Derek Willis was largely ineffective. He said he may consider playing Bam Adebayo at that spot and moving sophomore center Isaac Humphries into the starting lineup to get more physical play around the basket.

"You gotta guard, man. You gotta rebound. It’s real simple," Calipari said.

Kentucky has allowed the first two opponents to shoot an uncharacteristically high 43 percent from the field. The Cats were also out-rebounded by eight in their opener against Stephen F. Austin and only bested a much-smaller Canisius squad by three on Sunday.

Calipari said the Champions Classic is a great opportunity to show his team it can't rely on raw talent and recruiting accolades alone.

"What I am excited about is that the issues we have, if we don’t improve them in this game, you will see it glaring, and then we have the attention of this team," he said. "Like, if you really want to win. We have good players, but that is not what wins. It’s the grind, the toughness, the grittiness and the offensive rebound attempts. I’m not going to get beat to a ball. He’s not going to beat me to a ball. All of those things you will see in this game right now.

"And the other thing you guys talked about is, OK, lights are on at Madison Square Garden, it’s a nationally televised game, everybody is watching. It’s like the presidential debate. How do you do now? Can you make a shot? Can you make a free throw? Can you think? Great environment for that, to find out early.” 

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