The 2021-2022 college basketball season is finally here, and the first order of business is to take a look at the Champions Classic betting sports odds for the Tuesday showdown featuring No. 3 Kansas vs. Michigan State and No. 9 Duke vs. No. 10 Kentucky. The annual blueblood doubleheader takes place Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden with the first game tipping off at 7 p.m. ET with the nightcap getting started at 9:30 p.m. ET.
Longtime college basketball writer Rob Dauster, the co-founder of The Field of 68 Network is here to break down the Champions Classic odds and breaks down his picks for Michigan State vs. Kansas and Duke vs Kentucky.
No. 3 KANSAS JAYHAWKS vs. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
GAME TIME: 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
MONEYLINE: Kansas -195 ML, Michigan State +163 ML
SPREAD: Kansas -4.5
TOTAL: 141 points
KANSAS vs. MICHIGAN STATE BETTING TRENDS:
Kansas ML: 66% money, 60% bets
Kansas Spread: 65% money, 61% bets
Over: 51% money, 44% bets
One of the most interesting trends in college basketball over the course of the last six years is that the Champions Classic tends to be an event that is dominated by the underdog. In the last six years, underdogs are 8-3 ATS in the premier season-opening event in the sport. Six of those eight underdogs won outright.
I say all that to say this: What happens in these early season matchups is that we tend to overvalue what happened with these programs the previous season even when the current makeup of the roster means that the new year will be different that the old year.
And that right there is what is the most relevant and important part of any analysis that happens with Kansas and Michigan State on the opening night of the season.
Let’s start with the Jayhawks, who won 21 games and finished second in the Big 12 but never quite made the leap to being a team that we could trust, and certainly never looked like a group that could contend with Baylor for the Big 12 title. Part of that was because they never really had a point guard on their roster. They tried to fit Marcus Garrett’s square peg into that round hole, and it just didn’t work.
Enter Remy Martin and Joseph Yesufu, both of whom were highly regarded transfer guards that enrolled in the program this offseason. Neither of them started when Kansas had their exhibition game earlier this week. For as talented as they — specifically Remy — are, they are not the kind of player that is wired to have success running the offense in a Bill Self program. They just aren’t.
While I am actually a pretty big fan of David McCormack these days, and I do think that Kansas, in theory, has a pretty ideal roster build with their versatile wings surrounding the seven-foot behemoth that is D-Mc, the fact that Jalen Wilson is going to be suspended is huge here.
On the opposite side of the coin here, Michigan State is coming off of a really difficult season where they had a pair of point guards in the program that were closer to Remy Martin than they were Cassius Winston. Rocket Watts and Foster Loyer are shoot-first guards that are looking to score, which is why they are now playing for Mississippi State and Davidson, respectively. Tom Izzo is bringing in a transfer from Northeastern named Tyson Walker that is much more of a pass-first, set-the-table kind of a guy. Having great guard play is the best way to work through some early-season issues, which is why I tend to lean towards the Spartans in this spot, and why I think their +163 money line is worth a look as well.
No. 9 DUKE BLUE DEVILS vs. No. 10 KENTUCKY WILDCATS
GAME TIME: 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
MONEYLINE: Duke -143 ML, Kentucky +120 ML
SPREAD: Duke -2.5
TOTAL: 148.5 points
DUKE vs. KENTUCKY BETTING TRENDS
Duke ML: 68% money, 49% bets
Duke Spread: 24% money, 51% bets
Over: 28% money, 56% bets
Like Michigan State-Kansas, I tend to lean more toward the underdog in this spot than anything else simply because I do think that this should be closer to a pick-em than a two-point spread, and with the added value, my process leads me to take the dog on the moneyline.
But that said, this is one of those times where I am having quite a bit of trouble actually trusting said process.
There are a couple of reasons for it, but the biggest is Paolo Banchero. Duke’s superstar freshman is the guy that I think will end up being the No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA draft. I think that he’s a modern-day Chris Webber, a 6-10, 250-pound lead guard that can handle the rock and has, in the past, been used as an initiator offensively. He’s joining forces with a breakout star in Mark Williams, and that duo has the potential to just overwhelm an admittedly massive Kentucky front line.
That said, I *love* this Kentucky roster on paper. I think TyTy Washington has the chance to be a mega-star for the Wildcats this season, and I’ve been told that he is built for moments like Tuesday night in the same way that Tyrese Maxey was when he was in college. There is finally shooting on this roster, and there are enough different kinds of bigs that a creative coach should be able to find a way to consistently create mismatches.
I just don’t trust John Calipari to be able to do that. He’s talked a big game this offseason about trying to find a way to reinvent spacing or shooting or whatever, but it looks like he is still going to be starting Sahvir Wheeler with a pair of bigs that aren’t effective outside of five feet.
Kentucky cannot play bully ball against Duke and win, not this year. They can absolutely beat Duke if they use the shooters on their roster to create space and mismatches, but until I see them do that, I don’t think I can back them trying to do that.
I will be staying away from this game personally, but if I was going to bet it, I would be betting the Kentucky side.