WOW! What a game we got to enjoy yesterday as the nation’s top team, the Duke University Blue Devils, faced the third-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs in the finals of the Maui Invitational. I expected an all-time classic of a game, and that is just what we got as this game came down to the wire. I didn’t make a hard stand on the side yesterday as I saw the game total as the easier to exploit number. Both of these teams are elite on the offensive side of the ball, and even though the total was a high one, I still liked the over 164.5 points.
The over was never really in doubt as both teams scored seemingly at will. The game coasted over with several minutes left on the clock, and we had our bet cashed and we able to settle in and watch a fantastic ending. The Zags did their best to choke away a game that they led for thirty-nine minutes by missing all four of their free throws with less than a minute left in the game, but Duke could not capitalize as RJ Barrett came up short on a last-second attempt to tie the game and send it into overtime.
With the win, the Zags are likely to ascend to the top spot in both rankings next week. While this Duke team, clearly the most talented roster in the country, realized that it is going to take more than talent to take home the national title this year. The best part about both of these teams is they are both going to get better! Duke is starting four freshmen that are only going to get better as the season wears on, and Gonzaga played this game without what is likely their best player, Killian Tillie, who was out with an injury. I can’t wait to see this rematch in the Final Four! For today’s pick, we will head to Las Vegas for a first-round matchup in the Las Vegas Invitational between UCLA and Michigan State.
The Michigan State Spartans will play the Bruins of UCLA tonight from Las Vegas. Michigan State comes into this game 3-1 on the year and ranked number eleven in the country. The lone loss on the season for the Spartans came on opening night in a tightly contested game against the Kansas Jayhawks that were number one in both polls to open the season.
The Bruins are undefeated and are climbing up the polls as they currently sit at number seventeen in both the AP poll and the coach’s poll. The Bruins are undefeated on the season although they have yet to face any real competition yet this year. The Spartans are -6-point favorites. The game total over-under is set at 157.5 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:00 PM PST from the Orleans Arena.
Michigan State was the consensus top pick to win the Big 10 this season just a couple of weeks ago. Since then, the Spartans lost an early game to Kansas, and the rest of the Big 10 has looked unbelievable. The Spartans are still my pick to take home the league title but teams like Michigan, Iowa, Purdue, Ohio State, and Wisconsin are all ranked, and teams like Indiana, Nebraska, and Minnesota all seem to have better than everyone thought teams as well. So, this won’t be a year where Tom Izzo’s squad just runs through the Big 10 unscathed, this is shaping up to be one of the best leagues in the country, maybe the best league.
The Spartans are led by guard Joshua Langford. Langford is averaging seventeen points a game while shooting 100% from the line and 40% from deep. Senior guard Cassius Winston is going for seventeen a game as well and is adding in seven assists to give the Spartans one of the best and most experienced frontcourts in the nation. Having two very good upperclassmen guards is a big reason why this team needs to be feared this season.
And while the Spartans lost to Kansas on opening night, they showed me a lot in that loss. They were down double-digits in that game, against a Kansas team that was the near unanimous number one team in the country coming into the season. Sparty stormed back late to make a game out of it, and even though they came up short, they showed me they can play with any team in the country.
On the flipside, the UCLA Bruins have moved up the rankings each week by playing cupcakes. You can only beat the team that is in front of you, but recent wins over IPFW, Long Beach State, St Francis, and Presbyterian doesn’t really show me how good this team is this season. This game tonight will be an enormous step up in competition for UCLA.
One thing that UCLA has done at an elite level this season is rebound the basketball. The Bruins pace the nation in rebounds per game, and they are led by freshman sensation Moses Brown. The 7-1 Brown from Queens, New York is averaging seventeen points and twelve rebounds a game so far this season. Brown was a top fifteen recruit in the country, and the Bruins will need him to have a huge game if they want a chance to knock off Michigan State.
It is hard not to love what Moses Brown is doing so far this season, the kid looks fantastic. But when you look at this full Bruins roster, they just don’t have the same level of talent or experience as the Spartans have this year. The majority of UCLA’s best players are either freshman or sophomores, and by the end of the season, you need to fear this team.
But much like Duke coming up short yesterday with their group of very young talented kids, to a far more experienced Gonzaga team, I see the Bruins coming up short tonight. Tom Izzo has made a living dominating situations just like this one, where his team looks physically outmatched, yet he finds a way to win the game. I think Michigan State wins this one, and unless Brown has a really great showing, it might be fairly easy. Give me the Michigan State Spartans laying -6-points tonight from Las Vegas!