The Michigan State Spartans look to defend the top spot in the country tonight as they host the Columbia Lions. Join us as we breakdown the current odds on offer in hopes of finding an edge for our NCAA basketball picks tonight.
Well, that didn't take long. Less than one full week into the 2013-14 NCAA men's basketball season, the No. 1 team has fallen.
Kentucky's reign as the top-ranked team on the college hardwood won't officially come to an end until the new rankings are released next Monday, and there is little mystery about who will replace the Wildcats since it was the No. 2 Michigan State Spartans who won the encounter this past Tuesday. If their duel had come during the Final Four, it would've been hailed an instant classic; but with so many people still not tuning into college hoops, MSU's 78-74 triumph largely went unnoticed.
Michigan State will now focus on holding the No. 1 slot with the first of two preliminary games in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. First up is a visit from the Columbia Lions on Friday (9 PM ET), with the Big Ten Network televising the matchup from Breslin Center in East Lansing. The Spartans were sent out as 22 point favorites on the overnight NCAA Basketball odds, and that spread has been pushed up to 22.5. A game total should be released later this morning.
Spartans Survive After Letting UK Back In Game
Tom Izzo is no doubt pleased to notch the victory over Kentucky in what was the earliest matchup ever between No. 1 and No. 2, and first 1-2 tilt since Feb. 2008. Still, Izzo knows his Spartans were close to blowing big leads, twice going up by 15 in the first half, and the Wildcats hurt their own chances with a horrible night at the free throw line. Kentucky missed 16 free throws during the game, including half of the 24 attempts from the charity stripe in the final 20 minutes.
Michigan State was also beaten on the glass, but made up for that with a smooth transition game and committing only seven turnovers to UK's 17. Adreian Payne helped control the Wildcats in the paint, but ran into foul trouble with his fourth midway through the second half. Matt Costello also sat the bench much of the time with four fouls.
Guards Keith Appling, Branden Dawson and Gary Harris picked up the slack left by the Michigan State big men. Appling netted 22 points to go with eight assists, eight boards and four steals, while Dawson added four steals and nine rebounds to his ledger, also tipping in the final points of the evening that gave the Spartans the final 4-point margin, and their backers the cover on a line that officially closed at 3.5.
Avoiding Letdown Izzo's Biggest Challenge Friday
Beating a highly-ranked opponent in a game that had the hype Tuesday's did will always lead to the potential for a letdown in the next game. The potential would have been less if Michigan State's next opponent was Harvard, expected to once again be the class of the Ivy League, or even Princeton who should be the Crimson's toughest opponent in the conference.
But this is Columbia, instead, and the Lions should not present much more than a glorified scrimmage for the more-experienced and talented Spartans. That's not to say the Lions can't stay inside the spread, especially after they pulled off outright upsets last season vs. Villanova and Harvard.
Kyle Smith, now in his fourth season at Columbia, has some experienced players back from a year ago, including forward Alex Rosenberg, guard Grant Mullins and center Cory Osetkowski. The Lions were not as reliant on the 3-ball last season as you might think, and with the 6-11 Osetkowski playing a larger offensive role this year, they could be even less dependent.
Michigan State shouldn't really be tested until an early December matchup in East Lansing against the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Spartans will draw the Virginia Tech Hokies a week from now in the semifinals of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in Brooklyn before meeting either Oklahoma or Seton Hall the following day, but if MSU really is a top contender for the national title, none of those schools should present much trouble.
Columbia shouldn't be up to the task tonight either, and the Lions will definitely struggle to keep up with the Spartans' transition game. For tonight's NCAA Basketball picks, I'll gladly lay the points on Izzo's club.My pick: Michigan State -22.5 at Bet365