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Michigan State vs. Kentucky

by: Rich Salvatori @dickiesalvatori - posted on: 11-Nov-2013

In what could be the game of the night, Michigan State takes on Kentucky in a battle of the top two ranked teams in the polls. The Spartans are a veteran group who has its eyes set on a run to a national title. While Kentucky’s aspirations are the same, they are much younger.

The Wildcats have an absurd amount of athleticism and talent, but no one really knows how long it will take to come together. Both historical trends and logic in general indicate that a more veteran group holds a significant advantage here, and that is also indicated by odds makers. 

The Spartans open as 3.5 point favorites although it is now down to 3 on many vendors. While Tom Izzo's team being the small favorite on a neutral floor is telling, one must exercise serious caution in terms of how many points you feel should be handed to Kentucky when handicapping this game.

The Spartans are usually the better rebounding group and more athletic bunch in general when they play teams. This year, they feature a host of wing players who can all defend with length. they also have a great point guard and a physically dominant center.

But the Wildcats feature one of the biggest lineups we've seen in recent memory. Their starting guards both stand at 6'5. Alex Poythress, Julius Randle and Willy Cauley-Stein could be the most physically imposing front court in America, and that could be a factor here as well.

While the Spartans are awfully good, they are not an outstanding offense. Branden Dawson, Travis Trice and Gavin Schilling, among others, give them excellent depth and versatility. But last year's group lacked an elite scorer.

Enter Gary Harris, who this season should be 100% and will hopefully not have to deal with the shoulder issues which hampered him throughout the 2012 campaign.

Harris is a phenomenal player with a tremendous feel for how to score. What makes him lethal, however, is that he does not force shots. That can be mistaken for hesitancy at times. Harris was viewed by some members of the media as a player who struggled to understand the scorer role at the collegiate level early in his career.

But Harris has a season under his belt and his health in tact. He is excellent when moving without the ball and can hit from anywhere. He puts added pressure on a Kentucky defense who, should they get out of position due to helped offered toward Harris's man, will succumb to points.

That's really another issue with this Kentucky team: how good is there defense. We assume because they are athletic that they will block shots and disrupt passing lanes. But the Spartan offense is meticulous and crafty. It is balanced and non recognizable at times, with both a dependency on entering the ball into the low block combined with good away from the ball movement.

When things break down, they also have a great point guard who can bail them out.

I have the Spartans at 1.5 point favorites. I would be very hesitant on awarding the Wildcats too many points. I believe a lot of the hype surrounding John Calipari's bunch, and I think this game goes right down ton the wire.

It's difficult to fade the Spartans because they are such an experienced bunch. Still, Kentucky has too many potential advantages here, depending on how they actually matchup, for me to contemplate a bet in the other direction.