MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
vs. CONNECTICUT HUSKIES
Armed Forces Classic - Ramstein, Germany
Tip-off: Friday, 5:30 p.m. EDT
Line: Michigan State -11, Total: 129.5
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.
Can the Spartans cover the hefty spread here? For the answer, connect to College Basketball Best Bets for all the Expert picks throughout the entire 2012-13 season. Last season, the StatFox group had a combined 65% ATS (206-110-4) success rate in college basketball Best Bets. StatFox Scott led the way at an amazing 71% ATS (56-23-1) followed closely behind by StatFox Gary (68% ATS), StatFox Brian (62% ATS) and StatFox Dave (60% ATS).
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.