We are only days into the 2013-14 college basketball season, but the big games are already beginning to roll out.
Tonight is one of those “big nights” that always seems to be a part of the college basketball season. In Chicago at the United Center, the 2013 State Farm Champions Classic will have two games taking the stage and four of the top five teams in the nation will be taking part in those two games. While it may not have an effect on who makes the NCAA Basketball Tournament come March (or even who will win the title), it does make for some exciting action at the betting cage (home team in CAPS, pick in bold and the lines are from Caesars Palace in Las Vegas).
Game One – #2 Michigan State Spartans (-3) vs. #1 Kentucky Wildcats
This is the earliest that the top two teams in the college basketball rankings have ever played against each other.
Michigan State, who lost in the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament to Duke last season, is returning four of their five starters from last season with guards Keith Appling and Gary Harris expected to lead the team. Surprisingly, the seniors on the MSU squad are the only players who have yet to go to the Final Four under head coach Tom Izzo, With the veteran leadership and experienced coaching, the Spartans are considered to right that situation and be serious contenders for the National Championship.
Although they had a great recruiting class this year, how anyone could put Kentucky in as the pre-season #1 is beyond me. Last year’s team, replete with McDonald’s All-Americans (like this year’s team) stumbled out of the game and, after losing star freshman F/C Nerlens Noel in January to a knee injury (something he’s still nursing now that he’s in the NBA), got even worse. They fell out of the Top 25 rankings after Noel’s injury, didn’t have the opportunity to defend their 2011-12 championship (left out of the NCAA tournament) and suffered the indignity of falling to basketball powerhouse Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT.
Sure, coach John Calipari has rounded up six McD’s All-Americans again this year (who will be gone by this point next year), but you just can’t throw together an all-star team and expect them to gel. Calipari was able to make that magic happen in 2011, but one of these days the Kentucky faithful will get a bit tired of not knowing who is on the court without a program. This game is going to be a stern wake-up call for the Wildcats as I expect the Spartans to take it easily.
Game Two – #5 Kansas Jayhawks (+4.5) vs. Duke Blue Devils
The nightcap of the Champions Classic features two teams with two of the top freshman prospects for this college basketball season. Kansas features F Andrew Wiggins, who has already stated that he will leave college at the end of this season, while Duke will counter with F Jabari Parker (who probably will too). These two players are 1-2 (with various ranking systems having one or the other at the top) which should make this an exciting game.
Kansas coach Bill Self has some rebuilding to do in Lawrence and Wiggins is a nice feature act, but another freshman on the team, G Wayne Selden, might steal the show from Wiggins. Self has been able to get the team to gel well in the off-season and, in a weak Big 12 conference, should be able to dominate.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski (and, by the way, spelled that without looking) will be depending on outside shooting for the most part this season. With C Mason Plumlee off to the NBA, there is what is commonly called “a hole in the doughnut” (no center) for Coack K this year. With Parker and G Rasheed Sulaimon, however, he’ll be able to be more up-tempo than in past seasons and, even with the influx of some new blood into the ACC, will still contend for the ACC title.
It’s a bit early to be looking at the regular season, however. I believe that Duke will win this game, but it is going to be closer than the spread (expect a two or three point final score spread). We will probably see these two teams at the NCAA tournament, where a rematch isn’t out of the question.
These two games aren’t the only ones that highlight the Tuesday night slate in college basketball. #11 Florida steps up to take on #20 Wisconsin in a battle of distinctly different styles of play (Wisconsin is a six-point favorite, take Florida and the points in what should be a grind it out affair) and Shaka Smart’s #14 Virginia Commonwealth team travels to #25 Virginia for a battle (surprisingly, Virginia is a 3½ point favorite; take Shaka and the Rams, though, with their HAVOC mode of attack).
While some schools are still in their “college football” mode, there is plenty to get excited about as the college basketball season begins with a bang.
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