Why Spartans are a title contender

Gary Harris provides Tom Izzo with both a featured scorer and lockdown defender. Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday night the No. 2 Michigan State Spartans will face the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats in Chicago (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), a game that could foreshadow an identical showdown come April. In fact, last week no fewer than 15 out of 20 ESPN experts surveyed (including yours truly) said they expect to see both of these teams make the 2014 Final Four.

For his part, UK head coach John Calipari grabbed the headlines for his Wildcats when he suggested that it's "not fair" for a team as young as his to have to play a veteran outfit such as the Spartans this early in the season. To which Tom Izzo deftly offered to accept a forfeit if "Johnny" is truly so worried about his tender, young charges.

Assuming the forfeit idea doesn't get off the ground and the game is indeed played, you are in for a hoops feast of prodigious dimensions. Players from this game will almost certainly be strewn throughout the 2014 NBA lottery, and, while it's true that it will probably be mostly UK's doing, keep in mind that someone from Calipari's backcourt will have to really extend themselves this season to be a better all-around guard than MSU's Gary Harris.

All in all, it promises to be an excellent game between two stylistically distinct powerhouses. While Kentucky and a few of the other teams at the top of the preseason polls have new pieces that make them at least something of a mystery, Michigan State is very much a known commodity. Let's take a look at three key factors that make the Spartans a legitimate contender to win the national championship, even over the incredibly talented opponent they'll be facing Tuesday night.