There is room during the pandemic for the made-for-TV event known as the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. What that does is gather some of the best college basketball teams in the country and puts them on display for everyone to see. The matchup between the Michigan State Spartans and Virginia Cavaliers pits two nationally ranked foes against each other in one of the premier games of the event. The game takes place Tuesday on the Cavs home court.
Ranked No. 4 in the preseason poll, Virginia has stumbled a bit out of the gate. They were upset by the San Francisco Dons a few weeks ago and needed overtime to get by Kent State last time out. We expect the Cavs to be a top-10 team by season’s end, but they’ll have to improve along the way. Meanwhile, the Spartans are off to a perfect 5-0 start that includes a big win over perennial powerhouse Duke. The biggest issue for both clubs is trying to play at their pace. Virginia’s success comes from slowing things down while the Spartans will look to run behind Rocket Watts. With a name like that you can’t play slow.
This college basketball game will air live on ESPN at 9:15 p.m. ET on Wednesday, December 9, 2020 from John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, VA.
Michigan vs Virginia Odds
Michigan State Spartans +3.5
Virginia Cavaliers -3.5
Over/Under (Check Back Later)
Michigan State won its first five games but covered in only two. Those two payouts were the games with the closest spread and the Spartans are a slight dog on the road. Sparty upset Duke, 75-69, catching 4-points on the closing line and beat Notre Dame 80-70 while laying 8.5-points. The three other games all had lines of 22 or more points. The Cavs needed overtime to beat Kent State 71-64 avoiding a second upset loss to an unranked opponent this season. UVA did finish strong in that game outscoring the Golden Flashes 9-2 in the extra period. The Cavs are 3-1 SU and 2-2 ATS.
Michigan State Spartans
We will see contrasting styles and the team that has more success playing its game has a better shot at winning. The Spartans have scored at least 75 points in every game and average 80 points per game for the season winning by an average margin of over 11 points. This game also has family ties with the Hauser brothers squaring off against each other. Joey had a career-high 24 point in Sparty’s 79-61 win over Western Michigan.
The Spartans are deep and talented, but they’ve been inconsistent during long stretches. They showed off in a 75-69 win over No. 6 Duke using a 13-4 run to seize the advantage then held on with their aggressive defense and rebounding to post a rare win over the Blue Devils. That was also the stepping out party for Watts, who scored 20 points.
Watts went from coming off the bench early in the season to starting point guard. He followed up his effort against Duke by going for 23 points in a win over Detroit-Mercy and added 10 points and six assists against WMU. His ability to break down Virginia’s defense and get the Spartans in transition will be key against a team that likes to strangle opponents.
The other half of the Hauser clan resides in Charlottesville and is equally important to his team. Sam averages a team-high 14.5 points on a team that scores 74 points per outing. And like MSU the Cavs are deep with 10 players averaging more than 10 minutes per game. No offense to USF, Towson and St. Francis, but they aren’t in the same category as Michigan State. And now that UVA is playing a strong club we’re likely to see a shorter rotation. What that is remains to be seen.
It won’t prevent the Cavs from playing their signature smothering defense, though. Just two seasons ago they won a national championship by leading the country in scoring defense. However, it’s a complicated system and will take time for newcomers Trey Murphy III and Reece Beekman to master. Kent State shot over 55 percent in the second half of their near upset. Still, the Cavs allow just 57.5 points while holding opponents to 38.2 percent shooting.
A win over Michigan State will not completely erase the memory of that upset loss to San Francisco when the Cavs fell 61-60 as a 15-point favorite. It will give some legitimacy to the program and show that it’s on the right track to become a force once again in the ACC. Hauser and Murphy, two first-year players, are two of the three Cavs averaging in double-figures.
Michigan State vs Virginia Prediction
Best Bet: Michigan State +3.5
Virginia’s defense can frustrate a lot of teams. The only problem is that the Cavs are still learning the system and they have a loss and a near miss against lesser foes already. They should at least be inspired to play the undefeated Spartans, but MSU has more talent across the board than any team UVA has faced, and Watts is a threat to tear down the Cavs, which is why I’m leaning toward the visitors.