We picked up a nice win last night when we backed the Michigan State Spartans as small favorites against the UCLA Bruins. The Spartans were laying -6-points, and I saw them being able to handle the Bruins with relative ease. UCLA had moved up the rankings each week without ever really playing anyone, so I wasn’t about to give them credit for being able to run with a truly elite team like Michigan State. So, I laid the points and backed Sparty.
This game wasn’t remotely competitive in the first half as the Spartans blew the doors off of UCLA to open the game. Michigan State went into halftime with a 51-26 lead and coasted to a twenty-point victory, easily covering the number. This Michigan State team is much more balanced this year as they lost some high-level talent in the offseason. Four Spartans scored in double figures, led by Cassius Winston with eighteen points, and twelve different players took the court at some point for State. It was a nice early statement win for the Spartans and proved what I had already suspicioned, that this UCLA team, while loaded with talent, isn’t quite ready for the big time just yet. For today’s pick, I will look at the game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Kansas Jayhawks.
The Tennessee Volunteers, the number five team in the country, match up with the Kansas Jayhawks, the number two team in the land, tonight in the finals of the preseason NIT. This is an absolute blockbuster matchup between two very good teams. The Vols beat Louisville in the semifinals to advance to the finals tonight. While Kansas defeated Marquette to earn their spot in tonight’s game. The Jayhawks are -4-point favorites. The game total over-under is set at 150 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:00 PM PST from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
What a game we have in store for you tonight! This week has been absolutely packed with great college basketball games, and this game is one of the best and caps off what should be a great day of basketball with several ranked teams in action. Tennessee shocked just about everybody last season when they were picked to finish dead last in the SEC and ended up winning the regular season league title.
The Vols bring back almost all of last year’s production, including the reigning SEC player of the year, Grant Williams. Williams had a huge season last year as a sophomore and has seemingly gotten better in every way this year as he has seen his points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals all improve so far this season. Williams is joined by senior leader Admiral Schofield who is also enjoying a lot of success on the year, averaging career highs in both points and assists. The SEC is loaded this year with Kentucky, Auburn, LSU, and others all competing for the title, but for my money, the Vols are the team to beat.
The Kansas Jayhawks opened the season as the near unanimous number one team in the country and then beat a top ten team in Michigan State on opening night and saw themselves drop to number two. The Jayhawks fell out of the top spot with all of the Duke hype, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still the deepest and most talented team in the country.
Kansas is led by Memphis transfer Dedric Lawson who is averaging nearly a double-double this season. They also have upperclassmen leadership in Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick and a freshman phenom in Quentin Grimes. The Jayhawks have played a true ten-man rotation so far this season and likely have the most talented top to bottom roster in the country.
The play of Quentin Grimes has to be somewhat concerning though for Kansas. Grimes was a top ten recruit coming into the season and was expected to lead this team at point guard. But Grimes has underwhelmed some as he is averaging just ten points a game, fifth on the team, and his assist to turnover ratio leaves something to be desired as well as he isn’t taking care of the ball as well as he should.
After having a great first game of the year against Michigan State, Grimes has struggled badly in the last two games for Kansas. Despite averaging nearly thirty minutes a game in the last two, Grimes has just a combined nine points on 2-10 shooting and three assists and three turnovers. He was a total no-show against Marquette as he didn’t hit a shot from the field all game long. The Jayhawks are probably the only team in the country that could survive without a guy as good as Grimes contributing, but if they want to get back to the Final Four this year, he is going to need to get his act together, and soon.
To me, this game comes down to matchups. The blockbuster matchup is the one between fellow national player of the year candidates Grant Williams and Dedric Lawson at forward. Both guys are physical and talented, but in my estimation, Williams is going to get the better of Lawson tonight. We saw in the first half of their last game against Marquette that this Kansas team takes plays off on defense and if they do that tonight, they are going to get beat.
The other matchup I have my eye on is Quentin Grimes and Admiral Schofield in the backcourt. Grimes has all the talent in the world, but in this matchup, I think we will see the experience of the senior Schofield, get the better of him.
The should be one of the better games of the early season as both teams are physical and uber-talented, but I like Tennessee in this one. And getting the opportunity to snatch up for points is just too much value to pass up on. I took a look at the money line, but it wasn’t all that attractive, so I will take the four insurance points instead just in case the ball doesn’t bounce our way late in what is sure to be a competitive game. Give me the Tennessee Volunteers plus +4 points tonight in the NIT finals!