The 2023 State Farm Champions Classic takes place at the United Center in Chicago on Tuesday, Nov. 14. The doubleheader features No. 9 Duke vs. No. 18 Michigan State at 7 p.m. ET, followed by No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 17 Kentucky at approximately 9:30 p.m. ET. Both games can be seen on ESPN and via the ESPN app.
It’s eight days delinquent, but welcome to the unofficial start to college hoops season. The Champions Classic always feels like the real start to the season (and should be the actual tipoff event), with four of the biggest brands in the sport playing in a doubleheader. Let’s get to the picks.
Odds courtesy ESPN BET
Duke -2.5 over Michigan State
One of these teams is leaving this game 1-2 on the season. Duke’s loss to Arizona was understandable. I was there, and the Wildcats were just too physical. They dominated the glass and the Blue Devils struggled to guard Oumar Ballo in the post. Offensively, Duke was surprisingly selfish and just didn’t share the ball. But those are lessons to be learned in a loss to a top-15 Arizona squad with a bunch of grown men on it.
The Spartans, on the other hand, suffered a shocking loss to James Madison to open the season. JMU is a solid mid-major and the favorite to win the Sun Belt Conference, but you can’t lose that game at home. With an entire starting five of veteran players (Tyson Walker, A.J. Hoggard, Jaden Akins, Mady Sissoko and Malik Hall), the expectations were sky high for Sparty. But in reality, they were so reliant on Walker in that game. He went for 35 points, but anyone even asked to make a play or look at the rim looked incapable down the stretch. They shot 1-for-20 from 3, which was a huge factor in that loss. They rebounded from that L to handle Southern Indiana, but again shot poorly from beyond the arc. They’re now shooting 6.5% (2-for-31) from 3 to start the season, which is concerning.
In this matchup, I’m going to lay the points with the Blue Devils. While Michigan State is physical, it doesn’t have the post presence to exploit Duke on the interior that Arizona did. Additionally, I trust more guys on Duke to make plays and score in various ways. I think it will be tight with easy shots hard to come by, but Duke -2.5 is the play.
Kansas-Kentucky OVER 146.5
This matchup is fascinating, as it features an old, grizzled Kansas team against a young, injured Kentucky team. The Wildcats may have more future pros in D.J. Wagner, Justin Edwards and Rob Dillingham, but I think Kansas is unquestionably the better team right now. The Jayhawks have three graduates on their squad, led by Dajuan Harris Jr., who is one of the best point guards in the country (and already a national title winner); Kevin McCullar Jr., an elite, two-way wing; and Hunter Dickinson, one of the best bigs in the nation. Kentucky, on the other hand, has more raw talent but is depleted on the interior due to injury and eligibility issues, so 6-foot-9 Tre Mitchell currently provides the most size on its roster.
When things look this lopsided on paper, I do get concerned about the line. It’s not a lot to lay, but Wildcats do have an elite coach in John Calipari and high-level talent. I lean to Bill Self and KU to cover, but my favorite play in this game is over 146.5. The new block/charge rule is impacting the game. You can no longer just step under a guy who’s in the air. You have to be set when his plant foot hits the ground, and we’ve seen the impact of this in the number of blocks called and guys bailing out to allow an attempt at the basket. In the 11 games featuring two high-major teams thus far, the over is 8-3 and I think we see that hit again in this one.