Incredibly, we are less than a week from the start of college hoops season.
The first big games on Tuesday night are the Champion's Classic, featuring two matchups, involving four of the best programs in college hoops over the last few decades: Kansas vs. Michigan State and in the night-cap Duke vs. Kentucky.
With the games now less than a week away, DraftKings Sportsbook has put out point spreads for the two games - here are some quick thoughts on each
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Spread: Kansas (-5.5)
This number may seem a bit high, but the Jayhawks are a legitimately good team, that return everyone of consequence off last year's second-place finisher n the Big 12. And the bottom line is, they're good enough to win it all.
The big news of course in this one is that star wing Jalen Wilson will be out, after being suspended three games after getting a DUI this weekend. At the same time, Kansas should have plenty of firepower without him, with Ochai Agbagi back after averaging 14.4 points per game on over 37 percent three-point shooting last year and David McCormack is also back after averaging 13 and six as well. Oh, and they added Remy Martin, an All-Pac 12 guard who averaged 19 points in each of the last two seasons at Arizona State.
Really though where the difference for Kansas should be in their depth, as in addition to their star power, they also bring back and have added several other key pieces. Christian Braun has shown an ability to get buckets throughout his career, and transfers Jalen Coleman-Lands and Joseph Yesufu should add pop as well.
Then there's Michigan State, a program that is tough to gauge coming off last year.
On the one hand, they rallied to make the NCAA Tournament, where they lost to eventual Final Four squad UCLA. On the other, they lost their top two scorers off that squad (Aaron Henry, Joshua Langford) and outside of Joey Hauser, will have to rely on a bunch of guys who simply haven't gotten the job done at the major college level, or young players with inexperience.
Michigan State had a loaded 2021 recruiting class, highlighted by five-star wing Max Christie, but this will be their first college game, against a really talented Kansas squad.
Since these lines are just out, these are definitely unofficial picks - but the lean here is with Kansas.
While Michigan State will probably get there at some point, they are again, relying on a bunch of freshmen, and other guys who haven't shown a consistent ability to produce at the highest levels of college basketball.
Kansas meanwhile has a roster of older guys who have either been around Kansas for years, or have played high level college basketball and will be ready to go, on the big stage Madison Square Garden provides.
Kentucky vs. Duke
Spread: Duke (-1)
This is of course the first time since these two programs have met since back in the 2018 Champions Classic, when Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett blitzed Kentucky in a 39-point route in Indianapolis.
That was obviously a long time ago, and there are no players on either roster who were part of that game. But if you think it's not on the mind of both fan-bases coming into this one, you'd be sadly mistaken.
In terms of the game itself, well, it will be fascinating to see each program rebooted after disastrous 2020-2021 Covid seasons.
Obviously at Duke, the Coach K retirement tour begins here, and as much fun as it is to poke at the Blue Devils, Coach K's final squad will be a loaded. Paolo Banchero is, in my opinion the best freshman in America and the future No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, but there is plenty of talent beyond him as well. Jeremy Roach got valuable time at point guard last year and Wendell Moore is a former five-star prospect who seemingly has to break out at some point. Mark Williams showed flashes as a freshman, and don't sleep on Trevor Keels, a powerful, five-star freshman guard.
Then there's Kentucky, a program which went through one of the most drastic transformations in college hoops this off-season. They will be led in 2021-2022 by four marquee transfers, highlighted by point guard Sahvir Wheeler (who led the SEC in assists last year at Georgia), Oscar Tshiebwe (a former McDonald's All-American who led West Virginia in scoring and rebounding in 2019-2020) and Kellan Grady, a four-time All-A10 performer at Davidson.
Beyond them are the typical freshmen stars (TyTy Washington is the name to know this year) and don't sleep on the returnees from last year as well. Keion Brooks is fully healthy after missing the first half of last year and will probably be the player most tasked with guarding Banchero. Meanwhile Davion Mintz is back as well after averaging double figures a season ago.
With Wheeler and Washington doing the bulk of the ball-handling, Mintz will be free to focus more on filling up the basket, which he did, shooting 38 percent from three this year.
This game truly feels like a toss-up between two teams that really could be national championship contenders by the end of the year. But in a toss up, and this is still unofficial, I'll go ahead and roll with Kentucky.
To its credit, Duke looked good in a secret scrimmage against Villanova. At the same time, Kentucky should have plenty of bodies to throw at Banchero, especially if Jacob Toppin (who sat out Kentucky's exhibition win Friday against Kentucky Wesleyan) is ready to go. Also, while there are a bunch of new parts on Kentucky's roster, they will have more college experience than Duke at virtually every spot on the court, as the Blue Devils will rely mostly on first and second year college players (Banchero, Keels, Roach, Williams).
Still, if possible I'd wait to see two things before making any official bet.
First, wait to see if there are any injury updates on Toppin and CJ Fredrick, both of which sat out Kentucky's firs exhibition game. If either or both are out (specifically Toppin) that changes the dynamic of this game for me.
Two, wait to see what the over/under spread is here, as the over may be more appealing for two talented teams, that are still figuring things out on defense.
To see all the lines on this game and much more, visit DraftKings Sportsbook