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Michigan State vs Kentucky: NCAA Basketball Betting Picks and Predictions

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Michigan State vs Kentucky: NCAA Basketball Betting Picks and Predictions

Michigan State vs Kentucky

Tuesday, November 5 at 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) at Madison Square Garden

Free NCAAB Pick: Kentucky +3 (-105) with


NCAAB oddsmakers opened Michigan State as two-point favorites. Bettors have, since then, pushed the spread to -3.

In doing so, history couldn’t have been one of their reasons because Tom Izzo’s Spartans are typically slow starters against strong competition. They’re failed to cover their last three opening games against Power 5 opponents.

Michigan State’s Alleged Advantage Inside

The popular narrative is that Kentucky’s frontcourt isn’t so tough as usual. It’s fair that the departure of PJ Washington should drive this perception because he was an athletic monster inside.

Still, Michigan State lost some valuable pieces as well. Nick Ward was a bully inside who also had a nice spin move to get to the rim. One underrated aspect of his game was his proclivity to race down the court where he was the beneficiary of many easy baskets.

Also missing is Kenny Goins, who wasn’t so much a threat inside, but became a reliable three-point shooter, and could in that way stretch the floor.

The losses of Goins and Ward will be felt because Michigan State is thin at the 4. It will lean on Xavier Tillman as its proven post player. Give Tillman his due for the progress he made last year especially as he stepped up after Ward’s injury.

But one thing that Tillman misses is the versatility that Ward brought racing down the court and that Goins brought from behind the arc.

Conversely, versatility is justly attributed to Kentucky’s new big, Nate Sestina, formerly of Bucknell. Sestina combines the talent inside where he shows off above all his rebounding prowess – last year, he ranked 43rd nationally in defensive rebounding percentage and 380th in offensive rebounding percentage – with quality shooting.

Last season, Sestina converted 38 percent of his three-point attempts. His ability to stretch the floor via his range should create more room inside for Kentucky’s guards to operate.

Kentucky Brings Tough On-Ball Defense

One can only hope to limit Spartan floor general Cassius Winston. Winston deserves the praise that he gets for his court vision. He’s not the most athletic guy in the world, perforce relying rather on his craftiness inside the lane.

But he’s not immune to defensive pressure and he suffered some lapses last year against even lower-tiered teams like Illinois that brought significant energy and pressure on defense.

Enter Ashton Hagans, last year’s SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year. With his length and his ability to stay in front of his man, Hagans accrued a team-high 61 steals last year. He also broke a team record for amassing at last three steals in seven consecutive games.

Fellow guard Tyrese Maxey will also be a significant defensive presence. He shares Hagans’ length while preseason tapes attest to his light feet and smooth hip movement with which to change direction.

Inside, the presence of Nick Richards would be a plus as he’s listed as day-to-day with an ankle injury. While he occasionally lacked consistency last year, he repeatedly showed what he’s capable of.

He enjoyed, for example, a four-block game in 19 minutes against Vanderbilt and he achieved five blocks in nine minutes against Kentucky. He had the team’s highest block rate, easily, and his physicality in front of the rim would be an added bonus.

On the other hand, the injury bug has likewise been unkind to Michigan State, who will miss Josh Langford. The Spartans will miss Langford’s defensive prowess, which is an area where Winston has always been relatively weak.


Compared to Michigan State, Kentucky is not so soft inside as people think. It certainly has the length to compete on the glass – and both Hagans and Maxey are helpful in this regard –, while Richards would bring added physicality as a rim protector.

UK’s bigs are versatile and, above all, Sestina will not be someone that Michigan State will want to leave open. Also, Maxey and fellow guard Immanuel Quickley are both, per scouting reports, dangerous from three. In the end, Kentucky’s guards will prevail in the backcourt on the strength of their on-ball defense.

Michigan State brings experience, but Kentucky absolutely does as well, which is rare for a Calipari-led team. For these reasons, take Kentucky for your NCAAB Pick.

Free NCAAB Pick: Kentucky +3 (-105) with