Lake Buena Vista, Fla. – While Michigan State coach Tom Izzo didn't come away from Friday's victory over Marquette in the semifinals of the Orlando Classic especially excited about the way his team played, he did see a glimpse of what he's been looking for.
Unfortunately for the Spartans, that was the team on the other side of the court.
There's no doubt that Marquette, under first-year coach Steve Wojciechowski, has less talent than Michigan State. But to Izzo, the Golden Eagles played like a team very familiar to him.
"I said, 'That's how my teams used to play,'" Izzo said of his postgame conversation with the longtime Duke assistant. "That's what I said to him. I said, 'Man, I'm proud of you. You know what? My first year, that's exactly how we played. Not very talented, but we went after people.' So we've become a little -- maybe we're in the yellow collar right now. We're not quite white collar, but we sure as hell ain't blue collar. So we're gonna see if we can get back to blue collar by Sunday."
And that will be Izzo's task as No. 20 Michigan State prepares to face No. 11 Kansas in the championship game at 1 p.m. Sunday on ESPN.
He didn't see it against Marquette, despite an outstanding shooting performance that saw the Spartans go 26-for-45 from the field, including 12-for-23 from 3-point range. They were also 15-for-18 from the free-throw line.
But they turned the ball over 16 times and were outrebounded for the first time this season, giving up 12 offensive rebounds to the Golden Eagles.
"It just goes to show what you always talk to players about, no matter what sport you're in," Izzo said. "If one team comes and smacks you in the mouth, you can be all pretty boy and make all your shots and you've got a chance to lose. And what we shot from all areas, we should have won by a lot. But because we turned it over, because we didn't take smart shots, and because we didn't do our assignments defensively -- and a team just drove it, drove it, drove it -- we were in a dogfight."
There seems little doubt the same type of dogfight will exist against the Jayhawks, who pulled away late to beat Tennessee in the other semifinal on Friday.
Kansas (4-1) has bounced back from its 72-40 beatdown at the hands of No. 1 Kentucky in the Champions Classic by winning three straight. Junior Perry Ellis scored 24 against Tennessee and leads the Jayhawks in scoring and rebounding.
But freshman Cliff Alexander, a player Michigan State recruited heavily, is coming on. He scored 16 points and grabbed four offensive rebounds on Friday.
"He's starting to get it," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "I don't know if we've had anybody with more of a college-ready body, but he is doing a good job of getting on the offensive glass."
Michigan State had beaten Kansas three straight times, including a 67-64 victory two years ago in the Champions Classic.
The Spartans will also be hoping to win a preseason tournament for the second straight season after capturing the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic last season. Prior to that, winning preseason tournaments wasn't a regular occurrence.
Now there is a chance for the Spartans to not only do it again, but to prove they might be among the nation's best teams again this season.
"I think it's big," senior guard Travis Trice said. "First of all we came here to win a championship. Last year was the first time in like 10 years that we had won a preseason tournament. It's big, any time you can get one of those under your belt and put a trophy in the trophy case. At the same time, we want to get better each and every day and each and every game."
And it will take a much more complete performance than the one the Spartans has on Friday to get that tournament championship.
"I got punched in the mouth and so did my players," Izzo said. "And we're either gonna grow from that and learn from it, or we're gonna just be a mediocre team. I like my chances that we'll step up and so hopefully this will be a great game.
"Bill's got a very good team, they've got some guys playing really well right now. They've got some guys that haven't been shooting it that well and all the sudden this tournament they're shooting it a lot better. They've got size, they've got good guards -- it should be a whale of a game."
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Tipoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, HP Field House, Orlando, Fla.
Records: Michigan State 5-1, Kansas 4-1
Outlook: This is the championship game of the Orlando Classic. ... It's Michigan State's second marquee game of the season, after losing to Duke.