College basketball is back and it feels so good! After a round of cupcakes to get everybody back into the swing of things on Friday and through the weekend, the schedule has a couple of doozies early this week. No game is bigger than #1 Duke against #2 Michigan State and that’s where we will open up our season of picks.
Last year’s freshman class was talented but this season features a few teams that figure to be dominant and make for a more entertaining race for the National Championship than there was last.
Arizona and the two teams playing on Tuesday are the three best teams in the country according to the national poll and I believe those rankings are spot on. Three teams in three different conferences, one on each coast and one in the midwest will lead the charge for the National Championship with an awesome mix of diaper dandies and kids who could have gone pro but decided to stay in school. Teams like Kansas, Wichita State, Notre Dame and, of course, Kentucky are lurking in the second tier.
Let’s start with the Spartans. Michigan State was going to be the Big Ten favorite before Miles Bridges announced that he would return for one more year of school. Now they ought to be the title favorites if you ask me.
Tom Izzo has more to work with than he’s ever had before and most of it is in the form of big, physical talent. Bridges is a man amongst boys at the collegiate level but so is forward Gavin Schilling, who is 22 years old and won an additional year of eligibility after missing all of last season with a knee injury. Sixth-Year senior forward Ben Carter is 23 and will be closer to 24 when the Final Four takes place next year. He also got another year from the NCAA after missing last season with a knee injury. Nick Ward is just a sophomore but he’s 6’8″ 245 lbs. and can bang with anybody in the country down in the post. Michigan State’s beef is unmatched across the country.
Jaren Jackson Jr. has the most talent and NBA potential on the team, though. He’s a five-star freshman who can do everything at 6’11”. Bridges sounds like a sure lottery pick but I think Jackson will be the first Spartan called next June. He had 13 points and 13 rebounds in the season opener against North Florida and he’s just getting started.
The guards are savvy and efficient, as they usually are in Izzo’s scheme. The Spartans are covered everywhere but they are at their best with a big lineup of Bridges, Jackson and either Schilling or Ward up front. That’s a dominant front line that no team can match on the glass but will the Spartans get spaced out? And will they clog up the middle? There’s almost too much girth on this roster.
Duke is more equipped to space the floor with Marvin Bagley holding down the middle. The five-star freshman can do a little bit of everything as a center who can step away and shoot the three or put it on the deck. He and Jackson Jr. will likely match up at times that will have us begging for another go-around in April.
Trevon Duvall’s point guard ability frees up Grayson Allen to play off the ball, where he can catch and shoot when he isn’t running the offense. Gary Trent Jr. is yet another five-star who can really shoot the three. Duke isn’t undersized but rather just prefers to space it out on the perimeter. The Blue Devils have the rare personnel that could give Michigan State some problems.
This game will be in Chicago so the Spartans might have a small advantage being closer to home but Duke travels well. Michigan State is older, stronger and probably a little more ready at this point in the season than a younger Duke team, but if the Blue Devils are shooting, the Spartans will have to go smaller than they’d like.
Free Pick: Michigan State +2