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MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS vs. CONNECTICUT HUSKIES
Sportsbook.ag Line: Michigan State -7.5
No. 14 Michigan State and Connecticut will play one of college basketball's most unique openers when the storied programs meet up on an aircraft base in Germany Friday night.
The Spartans enter the year with a lot of battle-tested players and a huge front line, while UConn is entering a transitional year under first-year head coach Kevin Ollie with no postseason to play for. Both teams were above .500 on neutral courts last season, as MSU went 5-3 (SU and ATS) and Connecticut was 4-3 (SU and ATS). However, the Spartans were 7-6 ATS in non-conference games, while the Huskies were just 3-6 ATS versus non-Big East teams. After having their top two big men transfer, Alex Oriahki and Roscoe Smith, the Huskies are simply not in position to contain Michigan State's size up front. And the Spartans have won nearly two-thirds of their games SU (37-19) on neutral courts since 2004-05.
UConn is breaking in a new head coach for the first time since 1986-87 as UConn alum, long-time NBA point guard and former Calhoun assistant Ollie takes over for the retired Hall of Famer. The Huskies, coming off a disappointing national title defense, have plenty of firepower in the backcourt. PG Shabazz Napier (13.0 PPG, 5.8 APG) and combo guard Ryan Boatright (10.4 PPG, 4.0 APG) are an undersized but explosive pairing. And freshman combo guard Omar Calhoun is an aggressive scorer who will make an immediate impact off the bench.
The questions for the Huskies are up front. C Andre Drummond (10.0 PPG 7.6 RPG) is with the Detroit Pistons, and PF Alex Oriahki (6.7 PPG) and SF Roscoe Smith transferred to Missouri and UNLV, respectively. They'll be at a disadvantage against a Spartans team that, as always, will be tough up front. Part-time starter Tyler Olander, a skilled, but at times passive, big man returns and will have to take on a much bigger role. As will DeAndre Daniels, an athletic combo forward who played sparingly as a freshman but played well in exhibition games (11.5 PPG, 11.5 RPG, 2.5 BPG) against overmatched opponents. This game will also be a homecoming of sorts for role player wing Niels Giffey, who is from Berlin, Germany. Seven-foot-1 reserve C Enosch Wolf and freshman Leon Tolksdorf are also German-born players.
Michigan State lost do-it-all PF Draymond Green from last year's Big Ten championship team, but PG Keith Appling (11.4 PPG, 3.9 APG) looks poised to step up as the team's star this year. But, as usual, Tom Izzo's team will be defined by size and toughness. Wing Branden Dawson, a high-energy defensive stalwart, is back after tearing his ACL last season. And the low post combination of wide-bodied C Derrick Nix (8.1 PPG) and Adreian Payne (7.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG) could overpower UConn's thin frontcourt. MSU can also match UConn's backcourt firepower with Appling and freshman combo guard Gary Harris, an elite recruit who can shoot it or score in traffic.
GEORGETOWN HOYAS vs. FLORIDA GATORS
Sportsbook. ag Line: Florida -5.5
No. 10 Florida will tip off its season close to home, outdoors on a ship at Jacksonville's Naval Station Mayport, against Georgetown on Friday night.
Florida will have a slightly different look this season. Last year they often deployed a four-guard lineup. But with Bradley Beal and Erving Walker, their best shooter and point guard, no longer with the Gators, UF will use more traditional looks this season. Georgetown has some big shoes to fill as well. The Hoyas will be trying to replace their top three scorers-wings Jason Clark (14.0 PPG) and Hollis Thompson (12.8 PPG), as well as skilled big man Henry Sims (11.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG). The unique setting is a wild card in this game, as players will have to adjust to playing outdoors, and each team will be trying to mesh after losing several key players a year ago. It's a formula that favors the underdog. Plus, John Thompson III's Hoyas have been up to the task against great teams the past few years. Over the past three seasons, Georgetown has gone 8-8 SU against AP Poll top-10 teams, including an impressive 6-6 SU mark in road/neutral court games. They're 11-10 SU against top-25 teams on road/neutral courts during that span. So GEORGETOWN is the pick.
Florida C Patric Young (10.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG last season) is going to be the best big man on the floor on Friday night. And they have a couple of unique players to deploy alongside him in the frontcourt. PF Erik Murphy (10.5 PPG, 42.1% 3-pt FG) is 6-foot-10, but one of the best shooters in the nation, knocking down 42.1% of his threes. F Will Yeguete (6.3 RPG) is an athletic combo forward who actually plays at the top of their full-court press. But the Gators will rely heavily on their leading scorer from a year ago, PG Kenny Boynton (15.9 PPG, 40.7% 3-pt FG). The Gators led the nation in three-pointers made per game last season (9.6) and it was largely because of the 3.0 per game that Boynton hit. The senior shot it slightly better at home (42.7%) than on road/neutral courts a year ago though (39.4%). Whether or not he can find the range in a unique setting will go a long way towards deciding this game.
The Hoyas have a budding star in sophomore forward Otto Porter (9.7 PPG, 6.8 RPG). While Porter should produce, the big question is how the Hoyas' young backcourt will handle Florida's pressure defense. Junior point guard Markel Starks was benched late last season, and averaged nearly as many turnovers (1.4) as assists (1.6). High scoring freshman combo guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera could provide an offensive boost, and he should have little trouble adjusting to the spotlight after leading premiere prep program Oak Hill Academy to a mythical national title a year ago.