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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 at 10:18 AM

It's wall-to-wall basketball on this fantastic Tuesday in college hoops. We're here to preview the three marquee TV games on the betting board Tuesday Night…Michigan State vs. Duke, Florida at Ohio State, and Kansas vs. Kentucky. There's a lot to talk about so let's jump right in. Games are presented in rotation order. The games in New York will be televised on ESPN. The game in Columbus is set for ESPN2.

The first thing to notice about this game is that Michigan State enters the season unranked. If you've been buried in football for weeks, it's easy to forget the dynamics that handicappers encountered last March. Michigan State closed the season poorly, and fell in the first round of the Big Dance. Even though they were in a showcase game against North Carolina last week…this is a 'rebuilding' year for Tom Izzo. The Spartans may ultimately be a hoops force later this season once the talent has had a chance to blend. Right now it's best to think of Michigan State as a feisty up-and-comer with a great coach rather than an established power.

Michigan State: 62nd on offense, 30th on defense
Duke: 4th on offense, 8th on defense

Here's how the teams finished up last year in offensive and defensive efficiency according to the numbers at Ken Pomeroy's landmark college basketball website. These rankings are based on scoring as it's adjusted for tempo and caliber of opposition. Too many handicappers forget to account for tempo! Some good offenses have low scoring averages because they win at a slow pace. Some mediocre offenses score points because they're running and gunning and LOSING at a fast pace.

Obviously Michigan State fell apart last season, which is most obvious on the offensive end of the floor. They're hoping to get better ball movement this year now that some of the more selfish Spartans are no longer on the team.

We should point out that Duke often 'over' ranks in Pomeroy's stats in our view. We talk about this every year. They are VERY efficient vs. crappy teams…but then underachieve when it's time to play real basketball. Of course, that DIDN'T happen two seasons ago when they really did play well in the Big Dance while catching some breaks on their way to the national championship. Last year was more par for the course…a second round 73-71 win over Michigan as a 12-point favorite, followed by a Sweet 16 blowout loss to Arizona 93-77 as a 9-point favorite. Remember when Charles Barkley called a huge second for Arizona because he could tell Duke didn't have great athletes?

Even if you adjust for that though…Duke is still likely to be better than Michigan State out of the gate this season. It will be interesting to see how this matchup would grade out on a neutral court come March.

Though many teams have only played tune-ups or scrimmages so far, both Michigan State and Duke have played REAL games vs. very good teams. This will be our most expanded of the three previews we're doing today as a result. Let's crunch the numbers from those two games.

Shooting Pct: Michigan State 31%, North Carolina 47%
Three-Pointers: Michigan State 2/20, North Carolina 4/12
Free Throws: Michigan State 9/13, North Carolina 15/23
Rebounds: Michigan State 42, North Carolina 31
Turnovers: Michigan State 15, North Carolina 14

You can see the inexperience for Michigan State in the areas of shooting (horrible from the floor), free throw attempts (not attacking the basket), and turnovers (15 giveaways in a game that didn't have much running and gunning). Yet, you can also see their passion with that monstrous 42-31 rebounding edge. We absolutely LOVE that in terms of future prospects for this team. And, holding North Carolina to 47% isn't all that bad considering it's the #1 team in the country…and the Tar Heels have some media types asking if they could run the table. The Spartans don't cover…but they don't embarrass themselves either.

#6 DUKE 77, BELMONT 76
Shooting Pct: Belmont 47%, Duke 43%
Three-Pointers: Belmont 6/19, Duke 9/19
Free Throws: Belmont 16/22, Duke 20/26
Rebounds: Belmont 33, Duke 33
Turnovers: Belmont 17, Duke 19

Duke almost got embarrassed big time as an 11-point HOME favorite against Belmont. Now, this Belmont team is terrific. Almost everybody is back from last year's team…and last year's team was considered 'best of the teams you don't follow' nationwide (though they disappointed against Wisconsin in a first round game). So, the final score isn't quite as humiliating as a casual fan might think. Still, Duke wasn't supposed to be sweating the ending the way they did.

Note that Duke COULDN'T win rebounds at home from Belmont, and they played an extremely sloppy game offensively with 19 turnovers. Like normal, they won with treys and free throws (Duke is one of the only teams who can pull that off consistently thanks to friendly officiating). Belmont won two-point scoring 42-30. Let that sink in for a moment. We're already seeing in mid-November what's going to lead to Duke's March demise!

Will it lead to a demise vs. Michigan State Tuesday Night in Madison Square Garden? The oddsmakers say no. We'll be working closely with our New York sources on this one before posting a play. Be sure to check the 'buy picks' page here at the website to get our full Tuesday slate that may or may not include this game. Longterm…we think Duke is likely to be overrated once again against its best competition. Michigan State may not qualify as 'best competition' until later in the year though.

The Gators just missed reaching the Final Four last year…losing an Elite Eight game in overtime to Butler. Of course, they just missed going to the Elite Eight because they had to go overtime in the Sweet 16 to get past BYU and Jimmer Fredette! You can see by the national ranking that Florida has tons of talent back and is expected once again to go very deep come March.

Ohio State was a big disappointment last year as a top seed…losing in the Sweet 16 round to Kentucky. Ohio State's another team that has trouble playing its best when it's time to put the hammer down on the March stage. They will be playing at HOME in this game, so remember to account for that in your handicapping process.

Florida: 14th on offense, 35th on defense
Ohio State: 1st on offense, 5th on defense

You can see why Ohio State was such a disappointment to its fans in the numbers above…but you can also see why they go on the list with Duke of teams who can really impress vs. lesser competition, then get exposed when the other team knows what it's doing. You shouldn't be losing in the Sweet 16 round if you're 1st on offense and 5th on defense. But, if you're first on offense because you rain down treys from the heavens every so often (which you'll recall happened in their second round slaughter of George Mason), then you're playing a bit too much with fool's gold.

Florida went far last year for a team that didn't grade out all that well in terms of the true elite. If you're thinking about the more than 300 teams who play college hoops, those are great rankings of course. But, once you're into the final Dance contenders…it was a bit of a surprise that Florida was so close to a Final Four invite.

As fans, we're looking forward to this game. As handicappers, we'll be disciplined enough only release it to clients if there's a real edge. Note that neither team has faced a tough opponent yet, so we're not going to run boxscores from those routs. Both played very well, and there's just no reason to run blowout stats vs. very outmatched opponents.

#13 KANSAS VS. #2 KENTUCKY (at MSG, New York)
There was a lot of debate in the media this year about where to rank Kansas entering the season. They're basically starting from scratch this year…which means there's no way you can put them up with the true elite of the sport. On the other hand…this is KANSAS, and you just can't leave them out of the rankings like their Iowa State or somebody. Voters settled in the teens as a compromise. It could turn out that Kansas won't miss a beat because they recruit so well. It could turn out that Kansas has a down year because the newcomers are a bit overhyped. We'll learn a lot about that Tuesday Night against loaded Kentucky…a team that has a lot of talent back from a terrific team…THAT ALSO RECRUITED WELL!

Kansas: 6th on offense, 9th on defense
Kentucky: 7th on offense, 15th on defense

If you're trying to remember how last season ended for both teams…Kentucky fell to Connecticut in the Sweet 16 round in a heartbreaker, while Kansas was stunned by Virginia Commonwealth in the Elite Eight game in San Antonio. It's unlikely the Jayhaws will come anywhere near matching those efficiency rankings this year with so much new talent. Kentucky is hoping to be even better…and could well pull it off. There's a lot of excitement about the Kentucky program this year. Maybe this will be the coming-out party that truly puts them on par with North Carolina. Voters already have them there.

Again, both teams won blowouts vs. outmatched opposition in season openers. No reason to run the numbers. This game will provide a much tougher test for both obviously. We're working with our New York sources to see how the Kansas players are likely to handle Big Apple pressure. Youngsters are more poised than they used to be thanks to so much travel during high school or AAU action. Still, this is a city that can influence inexperienced teams.

Be sure you join us online for our Tuesday basketball. If you'd like to talk about seasonal rates, or putting together a basketball-football combination package…call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.



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