Kansas lived up to its No. 1 preseason ranking with a 92-87 opening-night win over No. 10 Michigan State.
The Spartans cut a 17-point second-half deficit down to three in the final minute but couldn't get all the way back for the win.
Freshman Quentin Grimes led the way for the Jayhawks with 21 points in the 2018 Champions Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Dedric Lawson added 20 points, 14 rebounds and six assists in the win.
Michigan State junior Cassius Winston had 13 points and 11 assists, but the team missed the opportunity to add a resume-building win right out of the gate.
Udoka Azubuike and Dedric Lawson Give Kansas Best Frontcourt in Country
College basketball has become guard-centric, but Kansas will win plenty of games this year thanks to the dominance in the post.
Lawson was the bigger name coming in after transferring from Memphis, being named a preseason All-American by the Associated Press. He didn't exactly look like it offensively, shooting 2-of-10 in the first half before 5-of-18 from the field.
However, he still contributed in a big way despite his shot not falling, filling up the stat sheet with 14 rebounds, six assists, two blocks and two steals.
Lawson averaged 19.2 points per game as a sophomore, so we know he is capable of big games as a scorer. The fact that he can help even when things aren't going well really shows the type of impact he can have this season.
Meanwhile, Udoka Azubuike was a real breakout performer with 17 points and four blocks against Michigan State.
He was a great defensive player last year and continued that Tuesday, but his work in the post was also noticeable in the win:
Jeff Borzello @jeffborzello
Udoka Azubuike might have been the prospect I've been most wrong about in the last five years or so. Thought he'd be a marginal contributor at best -- his improvement has been unbelievable. He's borderline unstoppable when he gets the ball down low. https://t.co/EGe6ntOOjq
Michigan State had some big bodies to help contain these players, but few others in college basketball will have a chance against Lawson and Azubuike. Add David McCormick and Mitch Lightfoot off the bench, and the pure size will be a huge advantage for the Jayhawks this season.
Even without Silvio De Sousa, who is being held out with his eligibility in question, Kansas has the most talented frontcourt in college basketball.
Michigan State Has Limited Upside Compared to Past Seasons
Losing by five to an elite opponent in November isn't too much to worry about, but there is no question Michigan State could have played better Tuesday night.
The Spartans turned the ball over 18 times and finished 23-of-35 at the free-throw line. This isn't going to please head coach Tom Izzo, and it isn't going to lead to many wins.
While these could be fixable, there are serious problems with the roster itself.
While you wouldn't expect the play to be perfect in the first game of the season, youth is not an excuse, as we have seen in recent seasons.
"Unlike last year when we had probably a little more talent, right now we have a lot more experience than we had last year," Izzo said of the team in September, per Kyle Austin of MLive.com.
This is great for competing in November, but eventually the rest of the country catches up, and after a few months, the freshmen no longer act like freshmen.
The Spartans don't have top draft prospects on the roster, and this will hurt against the more talented opponents in the country.
Obviously, players like Winston and Kenny Goins are game-changers at this level, and each had a double-double against Kansas, with Goins coming through with 17 points and 11 rebounds. This duo, plus Joshua Langford, will keep Michigan State hovering around the Top 10 all season long.
The problem is we are unlikely to see a late-season peak like we have come to expect from this program.
Jayhawks Depth Will Wear Down Opponents All Season
A year ago, Kansas had a great starting lineup with three big-time scorers in the backcourt. Devonte' Graham, Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk are now gone, but the new additions more than make up for the losses.
Grimes had an eye-opening performance while excelling in all aspects of the game:
He shot 6-of-10 from three-point range, while fellow freshman guard Devon Dotson had 16 points in a strong performance as well.
These players might not be able to completely replace the production from last year's guards, but they will make the departed players easier to forget.
With that said, the real strength of the team might come from the depth. Last year's team only went 7-8 players deep, with only five being real threats on the offensive end.
There is already a different look this season with 10 different players getting on the court and scoring points.
K.J. Lawson has a chance to be one of the best sixth men in the country, while Charlie Moore and Marcus Garrett could be valuable scorers in the backcourt.
As Matt Norlander of CBSSports.com noted, the squad looks even better than last year:
Considering the intensity of the Big 12 schedule, it's imperative to keep starters as fresh as possible. Kansas fortunately has reliable players who can play significant minutes each game and prevent anyone from getting overworked.
As good as the starting lineup can be, it's the improved depth that makes this group so scary.
The schedule now gets easier for both teams in their home-openers next game. Michigan State will host Florida Gulf Coast on Sunday, while Kansas will face Vermont on Monday.