Michigan State vs. Duke Pick NCAA Hoops – Nov 18th + Bonus Pick

At the time of writing this column, there are already basketball games going on, and that will be the case the entire day during ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon. Colorado and Auburn played at 3am! (Well, at least Colorado did – Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl might want to go back to bed and pretend this one didn’t happen…). The highlight of the schedule is the 9pm EST showdown of two of the game’s elite programs, the Kansas Jayhawks who appear loaded again despite the loss of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid to the NBA Draft, and the Kentucky Wildcats who bring an entire roster of future NBA’ers – no exaggeration – their second five would be ranked in the top five of the country. It’s ridiculous. But we’ve seen before that talent+talent+talent doesn’t always equal “wins.”

The Kentucky game is the one to watch, but there’s some other awesome matchups and wagering opportunities on the board today, so let’s take a quick glance at several interesting options. It’s been a nice 4-1 ATS start to the college season with Gonzaga’s easy cover last night. Let’s stack on a few more today.

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Today’s Free Picks:

Michigan State Spartans vs. Duke Blue Devils -7.5

Michigan State nearly lost their opener to Navy. Duke won their two openers by a shade under two million points. Duke has four elite freshmen to join an experienced backcourt. Michigan State lost Payne, Harris and a ton of leadership.

So Duke rolls tonight, right?

Well, I don’t think Michigan State is going to roll over for anyone, but the early-season talent discrepancy might be a little much for Sparty to overcome, especially with their already thin backcourt missing Alvin Ellis with a sprained ankle. There is a bit of a misperception that Michigan State-style physical teams are always the undoing of Duke, but recent matchups between these two stalwarts show just the opposite. Duke has won three straight meetings and Coach K is 8-1 against the Spartans in his Duke career.

Duke has a little too much firepower for a Michigan State team that is still trying to figure out where their offense is going to come from without their two main scorers from last year. Branden Dawson is a good player, but not primarily a scorer. That puts a lot of offensive pressure on point guard Travis Trice. I don’t think he can outgun the floor full of weapons Duke will spread out tonight. And of course, there’s Jahlil Okafor inside. He will get his first taste of an NBA-level defender in Dawson, so he may not have a huge coming out party, but he will at least command a lot of attention, which should be enough to ensure his teammates get open looks.

I’ll take Duke in the 12-14 point range in a surprisingly comfortable early season victory.

Free Pick: Duke Blue Devils -7.5


Bonus Pick:

Marquette Golden Eagles vs. Ohio State Buckeyes -12

First off, let’s just note – you better get your shots in against Marquette now, because Wojo is absolutely loading this program with talent and they’ll be Final Four contenders in a few years. Ohio State beat Marquette last year 52-35, holding the Eagles to a staggering 18.9% shooting in one of the ugliest games of the college basketball season. I expect they’ll manage a little better performance tonight, as Ohio State plays its first game without the smothering ball pressure of Aaron Craft who (finally) graduated.

Marquette is undoubtedly in a transition year. They’ve lost 71% of their scoring from last year’s team and graduated their top four scorers. Many of Wojo’s prizes won’t be on campus until next year and this year’s team doesn’t start a player over 6’7’’. Ohio State is reloading a bit as well, but nothing to the extreme of the Eagles.

Here’s my wildcard for Marquette, and why I think they’ll compete better than expected. They are young, but have one year of eligibility left for former BYU guard Matt Carlino. Expect him to provide awesome veteran leadership and to keep the team from unraveling in pressure situations. I don’t think they can beat Ohio State on the road, but I think they can hang around. This Ohio State team looks completely different from the last few years and will still be figuring some things out as well. Eventually their size edge will give them some second chance buckets and should allow them to control the boards, but it won’t be as easy as many experts think.

Free Pick: Marquette +12