MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (1-0)
at KENTUCKY WILDCATS (2-0)
Champions Classic - United Center – Chicago, IL
Tip-off: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Line: Michigan State -3.5
No. 2 Michigan State enters Tuesday's Champions Classic in Chicago favored to take down the No. 1 team in the land in Kentucky.
This will be a battle of experience versus youth, as the Spartans feature a veteran crew of players while the Wildcats boast a highly-talented group of mostly freshmen. Tom Izzo’s Michigan State squad routed McNeese State 98-56 in its opener, dishing a whopping 32 assists and grabbing an insane 66 rebounds, both of which were the most for an opener in the nation. Meanwhile, John Calipari’s Kentucky squad is already 2-0 SU on the young season with easy wins against Northern Kentucky and UNC Asheville. These two programs haven’t played since the 2005 NCAA Tournament, when the Spartans won 94-88 and covered a one-point spread. Michigan State is 4-2 SU against Kentucky since 1999, with both teams 3-3 ATS in those six contests. Both coaches carry some negative betting trends into this game as Izzo is just 3-14 ATS (18%) after a game with 51+ rebounds since 1997, while Calipari is 8-20 ATS (29%) after allowing 33% FG or less in his tenure with the Wildcats.
Who will win this colossal No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup? For the latest college basketball picks, check out The Platinum Sheet for all the StatFox Experts selections every week throughout the entire 2013-14 season. The experts began the season with a 55% ATS mark (11-9-4) in college basketball Best Bets, led by StatFox Scott's 4-1 ATS record. StatFox Zach also started strong, going 3-1-1 ATS on his college hoops Best Bets.
Three Spartans tallied double-doubles in their opener, highlighted by the efforts of sophomore SG Gary Harris. After averaging 12.9 PPG as a freshman, he scored 20 in the opener, pulling in 10 rebounds while also dishing six assists. Joining him were SF Branden Dawson (12 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists) and C Adreian Payne (10 points, 10 rebounds), but this MSU frontcourt will have their hands full against the large and athletic Kentucky frontcourt. PG Keith Appling joins Harris in the backcourt for his senior year, and was solid to start the season with 11 points, six rebounds and four assists. He led the team in both points (13.4 PPG) and assists (3.3 APG) last season. Another key guy to watch out for on Tom Izzo's squad is junior SG Travis Trice, who was only a role player in his first two seasons, but displayed his greater potential with 11 points, eight assists and five rebounds in just 23 minutes to begin the season.
This Kentucky team is stacked from top to bottom, led by freshman PF Julius Randle, who is averaging an incredible 22.5 PPG and 14.5 RPG to start the season. He’ll have a tough time putting up those types of numbers against physical players like Payne, but he has the athleticism to outduel the Spartans big men. He’s joined down low by sophomore C Willie Cauley-Stein (5.0 PPG, 8.5 RPG), freshman C Dakari Johnson (6.0 PPG, 2.5 RPG), and freshman PF Marcus Lee (10.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG). Another key asset on the boards for them has been sophomore SF Alex Poythress, who didn’t quite live up to the lofty expectations he had as a freshman, but is averaging 9.5 PPG and 10.0 RPG to start this season and has the physical tools of a future NBA player. The team’s backcourt is talented, albeit still unproven, with twin brothers Andrew and Aaron Harrison handling the ball. Andrew Harrison (10.5 PPG, 3.5 APG) has been the better distributor while Aaron (13.0 PPG on 9-of-18 FG) has looked for his shot more. If this team runs on all cylinders, they’re nearly unbeatable, but expecting a peak performance every night is a lot to ask for young players so early in this season.