It’s Friday, it’s Veteran’s Day, and it’s the Michigan State Spartans vs. the #1 North Carolina Tarheels facing off on a friggin’ aircraft carrier. Can the start of the biggest day of the 2011-12 NCAA Basketball season get any sweeter than this?!?
Without a doubt this is one of the coolest set-ups for the big opener of the College Hoops season, as with 131 games getting underway tonight, no doubt the 2011 Carrier Classic is the crown jewel of the bunch, taking place in San Diego, CA aboard the USS Vinson in front of 7,000 fans and active military personnel to celebrate and honor the commitments made by veterans and current members of the U.S. Armed Forces. There’s of course plenty of talking points on the court heading into this match-up between two of College Basketball’s elite teams, but with the game being played out on the flight deck of a 1,092 foot long carrier, the rare inclusion of the elements and the environment to NCAA Basketball will have to be taken into account before looking to place your bets at one of the top online sportsbooks reviewed here. In a game in which the President of the United States himself will be attending, can you really miss out on an opportunity to put stake into this game with a wager or two at one of the best online sportsbooks reviewed here?
Though assurances have been made by event organizers that the stadium-style seating will cut down the wind, and the forecast seems to be drifting away from the possibility of rain showers at game time, simply the fact that these two teams are playing in environment unlike any in College Hoops has ever seen makes this match-up all the more difficult to predict the outcome from the onset. Used to air-conditioned gyms and an enclosed arena setting, players on both teams, no matter how much experience they have, will no doubt have a bit of nerves stepping into the breezy unknown in front of a national audience for the first regular season game of the year. In perhaps the funniest admission heading into tonight’s game, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo spoke to reporters about his players status ahead of this contest stating, “My guys haven’t shot real well in the exhibitions. I told them to shoot the exact same way and the wind will blow it in.” That may be all in good comedy before tip-off, but in breaking down the two teams in tonight’s match-up, it’ll likely end up that Coach Izzo’s squad will need a lot more input in this game to pull out an upset win than simply help from the prevailing winds.
Michigan State enters this contest as perhaps one of the most underperforming teams from last season, finishing 9-9 in the Big Ten conference and 19-14 overall despite a very good crop of players including Kalin Lucas, Draymond Green, Durrell Summers and Korie Lucious. It’s a new-look Spartans team that takes the court for the 2011-12 season however, as Draymond Green, the 6’7″ senior forward, is the only returning starter (Summers, Lucas and Lucious are gone) to average in double digit points over last season. Sporting just 4 seniors and one junior (with none of them averaging over 2.7 points/game last year aside from Green), there’s a lot of question marks for Tom Izzo’s crew heading into one of the biggest match-ups on the MSU calendar, and the most important one continues to be where the scoring is going to come from. Keith Appling, the 6’1″ sophomore point guard will definitely be under the microscope tonight, as the leader of the Spartans offense and the one needing to step up to fill the shoes of the departed Kalin Lucas especially. Averaging 6.4 points/game last season, Appling must find a way to produce more offense as the floor general for the Spartans this year. Also in focus will be Valparaiso transfer Brandon Wood, who could be MSU’s main shooting guard tonight at least, considering the 30 points he rang up on UNC back in November 2009. But the things that won’t be answered ahead of game time continue to be, 1). How is the MSU defense going to stop the top-ranked Tar Heels, and, 2). aside from Draymond Green, who’s going to be contending in the paint against a bigger, more talented UNC group?
North Carolina hands down looks like a title contender heading into the 2011-12 season, provided of course they can stay healthy. With the top-rated 6’8″ sophomore Harrison Barnes back in action this season (15.7 points/game) along with senior center 7-footer Tyler Zeller (15.7 points also), the top-two UNC players no doubt will make a handful for any team’s 3, 4, and 5 players to contend with, let alone the inexperienced and undersized Michigan State Spartans facing them tonight. Adding in John Henson, the 6’10” junior forward who averaged a double-double last season, to a team that all-in-all returns the top 7 scorers from last season, and there’s no doubt that we’ll see lots of offense, and lots of dominating performances from a team that continues to mesh and improve over multiple seasons, a rarity in College Basketball especially among elite teams. Head Coach Roy Williams may be thanking his lucky stars that the NBA lockout helped to keep star talent in the NCAA for another season, as the return of Harrison Barnes in particular may be the difference maker for the Tar Heels run towards their second national championship title in three seasons. With so much hype surrounding the preseason #1 UNC Tar Heels coming into this NCAA Basketball season, it would be typical to expect the focus to be on North Carolina to have to live up to standards tonight against an underdog Spartans team coached by one of the greatest minds in the game. However, with UNC putting an already proven product on floor this year, the pressure in tonight’s game definitely eases away from North Carolina and lies squarely on MSU, and whether or not they can live up to their once-elite standing in College Basketball against one of, if not the, best overall team in the country.
Betting Lines for Michigan State vs. #1 North Carolina at TopBet.com
The North Carolina Tarheels are huge favorites heading into this match-up tonight aboard the USS Vinson for the 2011 Carrier Classic, but despite everyone picking the Tar Heels as the eventual winner, one of the biggest questions will be how well the Spartans can keep pace. With an 11 point cushion at -110 odds at the TopBet.com Sportsbook, can the MSU defense hold back some of the top players in the nation for UNC, while at the same time finding new scoring contributors after a rough season and the loss of 3 of their top 4 scorers? We can expect the money line to have relatively little action with such bloated odds (-700 for a UNC win outright, +500 for MSU upset), outside of those who either have the grapes to pick an upset in this neutral, extreme setting, or are just plain crazy, so we certainly want to hone in on the over/under and the points spread for the best online sports betting options on this game tonight. Though Michigan State is known for having a solid defense (and will have to be on point tonight to win), and both sides’ players should show some nerves shooting outside in a regulation game for the first time in their careers, the 135.5 points on the over/under could be a good mark to chase if you put faith that the Tar Heels can come out strong and dominate all game long with their talent advantage. That said, and noting Coach Izzo’s words about his team’s inefficient preseason shooting, the safest bet for this match-up between top basketball schools could be with the under bet on 135.5 points (-110 odds), as a slow start could be expected, environmental factors could indeed trim some points, and the atmosphere proves to be a bit overwhelming at first, leading to a lower-scoring first half that brings the total points number down. Lastly though, with the offensive juggernaut that is North Carolina heading into this match-up, I certainly like the points spread favoring the Tar Heels by 11, as it’s just tough to see where the Spartans points will come from in opposition.
Our Pick to Win:
This is no doubt a monumental game for NCAA Basketball, and on the first full day of College Hoops with 131 games on tap, there’s no doubt you’ll want to get your wagers placed for this historic game between two Hall of Fame coaches and two of the NCAA’s elite programs. Pomp and circumstance aside, when getting down to the bottom line of this match-up North Carolina is simply the better team with more depth, more experience, and better size. Expect to see at least 4 UNC players in double digits tonight as Roy Williams rotates his players and takes advantage of a host of mismatches, and to see the Tar Heels pull though with ease in this great Friday night NCAA Basketball showdown, 75-59.