Blue Devils, Spartans, UK and Jayhawks battle in Chicago
November 14, 2017 3:09 AM
by Ramon Scott
Four of the top six favorites to win the national championship square off Tuesday in the 2017 Champions Classic at United Center in Chicago.
Top-ranked Duke faces No. 4 Michigan State in a matchup of the two favorites to win the NCAA title this season. Both teams are around 4 or 5-to-1. No. 3 Kansas meets sixth-ranked Kentucky in the second game following the opening matchup. The two games will be televised back-to-back on ESPN starting at 4 p.m.
This series began in 1991 and the schools re-upped for three more years prior to last year’s event, guaranteeing these teams will play this now-traditional series for the next two seasons as well.
Chicago has hosted it now three times, but the series will be played in Indianapolis for the second time next season and in New York, for a third time, in 2019. The Wildcats are the only one of the four teams to have four Champions Classic wins following last year’s 69-48 victory over the Spartans at Madison Square Garden. They usually have the youngest team of the four participants and will, of course, be the youngest again this time. The series dates back to 2011.
The Blue Devils figure to be the slightest of favorites against MSU, with the total expected to come in the mid-to-high 150s. Duke has won the last six meetings with Sparty dating back to 2010. Duke defeated Michigan State, 78-69, last November in Durham, but failed to cover as a 13-point favorite. Grayson Allen scored 20 points for the Devils, while Miles Bridges tallied 11 for the Spartans.
Kentucky fans are hoping to return the favor for what happened at the Champions Classic against Kansas back in 2015 when that ridiculously good UK team thumped the Jayhawks, 72-40. It should be much closer this time around as oddsmakers will likely make the Wildcats the slightest of favorites here with the total in the mid-150s.
Kentucky’s four-point home win over Vermont on Sunday as a 12.5-point favorite could raise eyebrows, but the Wildcats scheduled the Catamounts expecting a tough game against the defending America East champs. The kid ‘Cats this year feature Findlay Prep’s P. J. Washington, and Hamadou Diallo, of Queens, N.Y., while senior guard Devonte’ Graham leads the Jayhawks.
Butler (+4.5, 150) at Maryland (Wed., 5:30, FS1): The Terps blistered to a 20-1 start last season and upset several higher-ranked teams during that streak. However, the season ended with a thud with first-round tournament losses to Northwestern and Xavier, as they finished 15-13 ATS overall. Freshman Darryl Morsell is advancing rapidly for Maryland. The Bulldogs won but failed as an overpriced 14-point favorite at home against Princeton on Sunday evening in a game that went OVER by nearly 20 points.
Creighton (+6, 156) at Northwestern (Wed., 6, BTN): Experienced senior ‘Cats Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsey look to build on last year’s postseason growth, while Creighton senior guard Marcus Foster and the Blue Jays try to make amends for a mostly-disappointing run after an 18-1 start last season ended with a first-round NCAA tourney ouster and a 25-10 finishing mark.
Xavier (+3, 144) at Wisconsin (Thu., 5:30, FS1): The Badgers dominated Yale defensively in the first half Sunday evening and easily got the money laying up to 15 in an 89-61 home win behind junior forward Khalil Iverson’s 8-for-9 from the field after the Bulldogs focused their attention on star Ethan Happ. The Muskateers return three great stars from last year’s tourney-run team in Trevon Bluiett, Edmond Sumner and J.P. Macura as they easily got the money as a 27.5-point favorite against Morehead in their home opener on Friday.
Missouri (+5, 143) at Utah (Thu., 5, P12N): The Utes fizzled last year come tournament time despite the presence of a big star. This year, Long Beach State transfer guard Justin Bibbins should bring some excitement with his senior showmanship. Missouri did a bang-up job on Friday with a 74-59 win over visiting Iowa State as a 6.5-point favorite, as sharps appeared to score nicely with the Tigers and UNDER. New Mizzou coach Cuonzo Martin is already making his expected impact.
Virginia (-8, 132) at VCU (Fri., 1, CBSSN): The Cavs already have the look of one of the top defenses in the nation after holding Greensboro to 4-of-26 from three in a 60-48 opening win to easily cover 8.5 points. Sharps steamed the total up seven points from an opener of 128, but bookmakers had the better of the total. The Commodores’ new coach is Mike Rhodes, who completed Rice’s turnaround in three years in his first major stop.
Eastern Washington (+8.5, 149) at UNLV (Fri., 7, Thomas & Mack): What a debut for the Rebs’ Brandon McCoy, the 7-footer out of San Diego, who merely had 25 points and 18 rebounds against Florida A&M, as UNLV covered 23 points here Saturday night and McCoy played like a future first-round choice. The Rebels face the Prairie View A&M Panthers on Wednesday night prior to this as likely 15-point favorites. The Eagles, who feature a trio of eastern European standouts, failed on Sunday by one point as a 10-point dog at Washington, as reportedly pros scored nicely with a sharp move on UNDER.
Utah State (+15, 149) at Gonzaga (Sat., 7, AT&TSN): The ‘Zags have to replace several stars, but seniors Johnathan Williams and Silas Melson will keep things at least stable in Spokane after last year’s awesome title run. Professional bettors reportedly lost backing the Aggies and OVER 145.5 in the opener at Weber State in a 65-59 loss in a near-pick’em as those sides were steamed higher.
Long Beach State (+13, 152) at Oregon State (Sat., 8, P12N): The total got steamed OVER from an opener of 146 to a close of around 157 in the Beavers’ 99-82 win over Southern Utah, although the T-birds got the money as a 23.5-point ‘dog. The Beavers’ standouts of Ethan and Stephen Thompson, and Tres Tinkle may have them rising into the top 50 soon. The 49ers failed for the sharps in their opener as a 15-point choice in an 83-71 win over USF, up from 13.5, but wiseguys reportedly scored comfortably with OVER 143.
Florida State (-7, 149) at Colorado State (at St. James, Jamaica, Sun., 2, CBSSN): Top matchup of the Jamaica Classic event involving seven teams playing Friday and Sunday. The Rams failed as a 17-point home choice in their opener against Sac State in a 72-61 UNDER. The Seminoles got off to a blistering 16-1 start last season, but were left with the terrible taste of a 25-point tourney loss to Xavier in the second round.
USC (-3, 152) at Vanderbilt (Sun., 6, SECN): Trojans a current overlay in the futures at 20-to-1 or higher, as a favorite in all but three of their currently scheduled regular-season games. Professional bettors backed SC considerably in its 84-42 rout of Fullerton in the opener, driving a -23 up to -26.5, although many of those same sharps failed miserably going over 151.5, which closed 154 or more. Vandy -25 and OVER 148 was heavily backed by pros in its opener at home versus Austin Peay, but they reportedly lost there, as well, in a 73-54 decision.