INDIANAPOLIS -- The ending was shaky, but all told, Kansas looked like the part of a No. 1-ranked team inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Tuesday night.
The Jayhawks opened their season with a 92-87 win over No. 10 Michigan State at the Champions Classic. In the buildup to the 2018-19 college hoops campaign, Kansas had grown into the most popular pick for the top spot in the sport. Through one game, all looks fairly well with Bill Self's team. Kansas was effective and diverse from the onset against a Michigan State squad not short on length, experience or shooting.
And welcome to college basketball, Quentin Grimes.
The Jayhawks' freshman shooting guard put on one of the better freshman performances in the history of the Champions Classic with his 21-point showing on 6-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc. Grimes led KU in scoring.
"He's not that good a shooter is he?" one Michigan State coach asked in the locker room afterward.
Well, he might just be.
Here are three takeaways from Tuesday night's Jayhawks win over the Spartans:
1. Kansas' size is going to be its weapon of choice this season
Between Grimes' shooting, Udoka Azubuike's borderline-unstoppable prowess around the rim and Dedric Lawson's solid showing in his first game as a Kansas player, things graded out fairly well for KU. Grimes was ready for the big lights, but it was the big guys who helped get Kansas a large first-half lead that ultimately proved necessary to get the W.
Lawson, a playmaking power forward who averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 rebounds in his first two seasons at Memphis, finished with 20 points, 14 rebounds and six assists. And really? This was a B-level game for him. I could easily see him notching three or four triple-doubles this season (which few players have ever done in a single season).
That's what makes Kansas' outlook scary for most other teams in college basketball. Remember, KU's coming off a Final Four appearance, lost three of its five starters from that team (including a consensus First Team All-American in Devonte' Graham) and already looks like it will be even better this season. Kansas appears to have a lot -- if not all -- of the requisite parts to win a national title.
Azubuike looks stronger, a bit leaner and overall better working the block. Now, as Michigan State cut into KU's lead late, Azubuike missed some foul shots. Hack-a-Doke was in effect. He shot 41 percent from the foul line last season. I asked Self after the game if he plans to take Azubuike out in close games this season; Self said no, probably not, citing that he's never believed that taking out your best players in crunch time is a winning scenario.
2. The Spartans salvaged themselves late
For Michigan State, there's a lot to work on ... but this wasn't a flop. A methodic rally late put MSU within three with less than 20 seconds remaining. The Spartans are again the preseason pick to be the best team in the Big Ten. If they're to live up to that, they'll need more consistent 3-point shooting from senior Matt McQuaid. The good news is Josh Langford's 18-point night. Langford, who might become a top-30 defender in college basketball this season, was confident and aggressive in his shot selection.
Ultimately, Kansas is a better, more talented team than Michigan State. The Spartans' coaches know that. They would have had a better shot if they'd been able to capitalize on turnovers -- MSU had 18; KU had 11 -- and been more physical down low. But easier said than done.
The good news for MSU is it's not going to have but one or two more games this season against a frontline like Kansas'. Stay patients, Sparty fans.
3. Silvio De Sousa's ineligibility remains a mystery
I spoke with Self afterward and he told me he's unaware of if, or when, the NCAA might clear Kansas sophomore power forward Silvio De Sousa for competition. In federal court, wiretapped phone calls and admissions of impermissible payments were detailed regarding De Sousa's recruitment to Maryland and then Kansas.
The university was reactive to those reveals by placing De Sousa on suspension.
Kansas won't need De Sousa on the floor to win a national title, but if a scenario happened wherein he actually did return this season, it would convincingly give the Jayhawks the best frontcourt in the country. But Self told me any forecast on that is unknown. Could be in two weeks, could be in two months, could be never.
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