Despite failing to cover the spread in both games, the Michigan State Spartans were never in jeopardy of losing in their first week of the college basketball season. MSU earned a convincing 83-67 win over Eastern Michigan (+20.5) on Wednesday before topping Notre Dame (+10.5) 80-70 two days later.
Now the No. 13 Spartans prepare for a showdown in the Champions Classic with No. 9 Duke on Tuesday inside an empty Cameron Indoor Stadium. Sportsbooks in Michigan currently have MSU as 3.5-point underdogs with a +140 moneyline, while Duke’s moneyline is at -175.
Due to differing COVID-19 protocols between the Big 12 and SEC vs. the ACC and Big Ten, the Champions Classic will not be played at a neutral site for the first time in the 10 years of the event. No. 6 Kansas (-109 moneyline) will face No. 10 Kentucky (-112 moneyline) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis Tuesday.
By having separate venues for the games, teams won’t have to wait for elongated periods between contests due to COVID-19 protocols and cleaning procedures. Two separate venues could help the event run smoothly and on time.
Out of the four schools, MSU has struggled the most in the event, compiling the worst record (3-6). Duke is tops at 6-3, while Kentucky (5-4) and Kansas (4-5) follow suit.
Sports bettors might want to note that MSU has also yet to beat Duke at the Champions Classic, going 0-3.
While Foster Loyer and Rocket Watts’ minutes have been close through two games (43 for Watts, 42 for Loyer), it’s Loyer who earned the start at the point, replacing the school’s all-time assist leader in Cassius Winston.
Loyer’s game suited the zone Eastern Michigan employed against the Spartans. The sharpshooting guard from Clarkston converted on 6 of 10 3-point attempts to score a game-high 20 points.
In the matchup against Notre Dame, it was Watts who starred, making 3 of 5 3-pointers for 13 points off the bench.
If the two games are any indication, the Spartans may attempt to replace Winston by riding whoever is hot between Watts and Loyer.
Offensively, the Spartans greatest asset may be their depth. In two games, they’ve had six different players reach double figures. Aaron Henry, one of the team’s top NBA prospects, led MSU with 14 points and eight rebounds in the win over Notre Dame.
Previously known as a premier defensive stopper on the perimeter, Henry has continued to improve his offensive game to the point Coach Tom Izzo mentioned in the postgame press conference, “Aaron Henry is playing some of his best basketball,” after the win over Notre Dame.
Joey Hauser, the transfer from Marquette, scored 15 points against Eastern and had 10 vs. Notre Dame, despite going 0 for 6 from 3-point range in the two games combined. In his one year at Marquette, Hauser shot 43% from 3-point range.
MSU also returned senior guard Joshua Langford, who played for the first time in two years after injuries forced him to sit out. Langford scored 10 points in the win over Eastern.
The Blue Devils had a closer game in their debut against Coppin State than the oddsmakers expected. Duke was favored by 37.5 against Coppin State but managed just an 81-71 win over the Eagles on Saturday.
Compared to Duke’s lofty standards, the No. 9 preseason ranking is a bit of a letdown compared to past years. It’s the lowest preseason ranking for the Blue Devils in 10 years, and the team doesn’t feature the renowned top 10 rated recruits such as Zion Williamson or Tre Jones.
Still, other programs believe the Blue Devils are loaded. Duke has four five-star players with forward Jalen Johnson leading the way. Johnson recorded 19 points and 19 rebounds against Coppin State, while freshman guard D.J. Steward scored 24 points.
The Blue Devils did have growing pains in their win over Coppin State. Duke finished with 22 turnovers, allowing Coppin State to chip away at a 17-point halftime deficit and make it a game with the Blue Devils.