College basketball finally returns tonight, and we’ll have a double-header of No. 3 Kansas vs. Michigan State and No. 9 Duke vs. No. 10 Kentucky to tip off the season. Below are my Champions Classic bets, dissecting the key angles for each matchup.
Click on the odds below to bet now.
- Top-68 Betting Guide: College Basketball Preseason Power Rankings
Kansas vs. Michigan State
For starters, Tom Izzo’s team is improved with Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker taking over the point guard duties — with sophomore A.J. Hoggard behind him. The Spartans lacked a go-to presence at that position all of last season minus Cassius Winston.
Nevertheless, Walker will likely have a tough time sticking with Kansas guards Remy Martin (Arizona State) and Joseph Yesufu (Drake). The two are both lightning quick off the dribble while rarely turning the ball over. These playmakers should assist with the Jayhawks’ shooting from around the arc too, as Bill Self’s unit accrued a below-average 3-point clip (33.6%) in the 2021-22 campaign.
MSU could be in for a long night at that end with five-star guard Max Christie and forward Joey Hauser representing defensive liabilities in their own right. That’s not even including Sparty’s rotation of bigs going up against KU center David McCormack, who generated a top-90 possession percentage a season ago. McCormack’s prowess for scoring at the rim or finding the open shooter will be a difficult test, even for Marcus Bighman — the Spartans’ top defensive big.
That said, Kansas will be without forward Jalen Wilson (suspension), which should give Michigan State an opportunity to exploit the opposition on the perimeter as well. Hauser was at his best at Marquette with star guard Markus Howard in the pick-and-pop, and Walker can provide a similar effect.
Regarding the total, the variable of the Madison Square Garden shooting backdrop could come into play for the under. That’s not an aspect I’m willing to bet on though Tuesday night.
The Jayhawks present the most advantages overall, but I’m sitting this one out with the spread fairly even with my ratings.
Eli’s Champions Classic Bets: Monitor Kansas live, but nothing pregame
Best Available Line: Kansas
- More from Eli: Three College Hoops Futures With Preseason Value
Duke vs. Kentucky
Taking a look at the injuries for each side, Blue Devils five-star freshman A.J. Griffin (knee) could be limited despite playing in their exhibition game. When healthy, Griffin is Duke’s premier wing defender and would be a difference-maker against Davidson-turned-Kentucky gunner Kellan Grady.
Wildcats center Oscar Tshiebwe (hip) and guard C.J. Fredrick (leg) are also banged up. The West Virginia transfer will be featured much more on Tuesday, as John Calipari noted that Fredrick would only see a few minutes.
Calipari’s squad was susceptible against well-rounded bigs in the 2021-22 campaign, and Duke freshman Paolo Banchero could deliver similar issues. The foul-prone Tshiebwe will have a difficult time sticking with the hybrid forward while neither Keion Brooks nor Damion Collins boast the requisite physicality in the low-post. Cal’s best bet could be Jacob Toppin, but his exact role in the rotation is unknown.
Still, Kentucky is set up for defensive success, as it has the bodies to limit Mark Williams. Expect Calipari to implement more ball pressure with a more experienced group as well. Duke tallied a below-average turnover rate in ACC play last season, and losing now-Oklahoma guard Jordan Goldwire is an underrated factor in that regard.
At the other end, Wildcats guards (Georgia transfer Sahvir Wheeler, freshman TyTy Washington) should expose the Blue Devils’ Jeremy Roach, especially in transition. The backcourt duo, plus Grady, Davion Mintz and Dontaie Allen, will supply much-needed perimeter threats. The Wildcats shot just 33.6% in that department a season ago.
Money came in on the Blue Devils this morning to push them back to -1.5 (-110) and even higher. That was a buy-point for me on Kentucky among Champions Classic bets and options. I’d bet it down to a pick’em.