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Kentucky basketball’s freshmen four to bear load

Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Ste(15) tries block out Michigan State center Adreian Payne (5) as forward Alex Poythress watches from behind

Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein (15) tries to block out Michigan State center Adreian Payne (5) as forward Alex Poythress watches from behind during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, in Chicago. Michigan State won 78-74. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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Updated: November 12, 2013 10:58PM

Freshmen Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins may have been slated as the main event for Tuesday’s State Farm Champions Classic at the United Center. The Duke and Kansas players, respectively, are considered top NBA prospects.

But there might not be a group of freshmen that have has more of an impact on the national title picture than Kentucky’s quartet of fresh faces.

Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Julius Randle and James Young were McDonald’s All-Americans in 2012 and starters for the Wildcats on Tuesday against Michigan State.

Parker and Wiggins may be the best player on their team, but they have a supporting cast of upperclassmen. Early indications are that the Kentucky quartet will assume the majority of the burden for the Wildcats.

Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Randle and YoungThe four combined to average 54 points heading into Tuesday’s contest. Randle entered having scored 45 points in his first two college games.

That’s the best two-game start for a Kentucky freshman under coach John Calipari. John Wall had the previous mark of 40 points.

In total, Kentucky has eight high school All-Americans.

Polished prospect

If the NBA had not instituted its draft-eligibility rule that, which forces players to wait a year after high school graduation to enter the draft, Wiggins would have been the first pick this year.

While his stock likely won’t fall before the 2014 NBA draft on June 16, right now Parker is the more polished player.

From a purely statistical standpoint, Wiggins’ validated himself in his first college basketball game. He scored with 16 points, three steals and a 55.6 field-goal percentage in 34 minutes.

But, currently, Parker appears to be more seasoned on both ends of the floor. The former Simeon star proved in his first game against Davidson on Friday that he can play all five positions at the collegiate level.

As much as he is ballyhooed for his offensive ability, that speaks to his versatility on the defensive end.

Manning up early

While college basketball teams around the country run down the list of directional schools as they put together their non-conference schedules, Michigan State hasn’t been afraid to schedule top teams early in the year.

In the last three seasons, Michigan State has the Spartans played games against Connecticut, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina — all away from East Lansing.

That’s probably a reason why they’re so prepared come March.

This and that

The meeting between No. 1 Kentucky and No. 2 Michigan State was the earliest ever meeting between the top two teams in the country.

◆ It was the first time since 2008 that the top two teams met during the regular season.

◆ No. 4 Duke is the highest-ranked team No. 5 Kansas has faced since it the 2012 NCAA championship game, when it lost to Kentucky.


Twitter: @SethGruen

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