Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo, left, talks to Tyson Walker (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kansas Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, in New York. Kansas won the game 87-74. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
The Michigan State Spartan (4-1) — who were picked to finish sixth in the Big Ten preseason poll — aim to win their fifth straight game after dropping their opener against No. 3 Kansas in the Champions Classic — against the undefeated No. 22 Connecticut Huskies (5-0) Thursday in a Battle 4 Atlantis semifinal matchup from The Bahamas. Tip off is at noon ET on ESPN. The winner will play in the tourney title game at 11 am ET Saturday.
UConn enters the contest as slight favorites according to oddsmakers and KenPom predicts the Huskies will win 72-71.
|Michigan State||-140||-2.5 (-110)||139.0 (-105)|
|UConn||+120||+2.5 (-110)||139.0 (-115)|
Odds as of November 24th, 2021, at DraftKings.
Dunk You Very Much
Spartan senior Marcus Bingham’s alley-oop dunk was the difference in Michigan State’s thrilling two-point win over Loyola in Wednesday’s tourney opener. The 6-foot-11 forward was mobbed by his teammates following a desperation heave by the Ramblers as time expired.
— Woodward Sports Network (@woodwardsports) November 24, 2021
Bingham had a marvelous final stat line, finishing with 11 points, nine rebounds and seven blocks for the Spartans. He’s the team’s leader in rebounds (averaging 8.4 per game) and the fifth-ranked player in block percentage (per KenPom). Meantime, Malik Hall — the best recruit left on the squad from the Class of 2019 and fourth-leading scorer prior to Wednesday at only 8.5 points per game — went 9-for-9 from the field, 5-for- 5 at the free-throw line, and posted career highs of 24 points in 32 minutes against Loyola. Sparty shot 46% and won despite committing 20 turnovers.
The point is, following that tough loss to the Jayhawks out of the gate, Tom Izzo’s club has ripped off four in a row and are getting significant contributions from several different players. With the team playing elite defense (ranking third in defensive adjusted efficiency, sixth in 2-point percentage defense and seventh in block percentage defense), Michigan State is playing a winning brand of basketball early on.
The Spartans figure to be sky-high after Wednesday’s contest, while UConn may be running on empty after their epic tussle with the Tigers.
It may have been played on Thanksgiving Eve, but UConn’s back-and-forth — and historic (it was the first double-overtime game in the tourney’s 10-year history) — six-point victory over Auburn felt like a March Madness classic. Tyler Polley scored a career-high 24 points and went 6-of-9 from 3-point land, while Adama Sanogo poured in a game-and-career-high 30 for Dan Hurley’s Huskies.
UConn and Auburn trade buckets to force overtime! pic.twitter.com/u4K3EZbZkp
— ESPN (@espn) November 24, 2021
After giving up 109 points, you’d expect Connecticut’s season-long defense stats to take a hit. Prior to Wednesday’s bonkers game, the Big East team was rated in the top-10 by KenPom in defensive effective field goal percentage, (5th), defensive turnover percentage (4th), 2-point defensive field goal percentage (7th), defensive steal percentage (9th) and defensive non-steal turnover percentage (10th). After, block percentage defense (10th) is the squad’s only top-10 rank in defensive categories.
On the flip side, UConn is now a top-10 offensively in three categories: offensive rebounding percentage (4th), 3-point shooting percentage (6th) and block percentage (9th).
The Huskies did move up four spots in KenPom’s overall ratings (they’re now sitting at 18th), but I’m concerned they don’t have anything left in the tank after such a bananas affair (see: Gonzaga in the title game against Baylor after a wild overtime win against UCLA in last season’s National Semifinal).
Prior to Wednesday’s nail-biter against the Ramblers, the Spartans had beaten their previous three opponents by an average score of 82-52. Prior to their double-overtime extravaganza over War Eagle, the Huskies had beaten their previous four opponents by an average score of 92-51
After a team wins a game like UConn did against Auburn, there’s a feeling of invincibility. But immediately following the final horn, the Huskies got a scare. Isaiah Whaley fainted and went down in front of UConn bench. Hurley said he thought the 6-foot-9 forward just stood up too quick. But the sight of seeing one of their senior leaders go down had to be difficult — even if Whaley is ultimately OK.
There’s no doubt the Huskies can beat the Spartans. But, based on roster balance and intangibles, I’m going with Izzo in this spot.
Pick: Michigan State +2.5 (-110)