The Michigan State Spartans travel to the KFC Yum! Center to take on the Louisville Cardinals in the opening game of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. This is a 2-day event matching up relatively similar programs from each conference to square off for bragging rights and forces a lot of good, non-conference games rather early in the year and not on a neutral site. The Spartans come into this game on a nice winning streak since their loss on opening night vs. Kansas. Louisville comes in struggling in the last 2 games with losses to 2 quality opponents in Tennessee and Marquette.
Michigan State has looked like a title contender yet again early in the season. Now, they are not at the top of that list quite yet, but they make the early cut. Their only loss was a 5-point loss on a neutral site in their first game to a consensus top 3 team in the country. That isn’t how they wanted to start the year, but there won’t be much shame in that loss come March. Michigan State started that first game off rather slow but eventually made a game of it. Since then, they have accumulated 5 wins including back-to-back wins over big-time programs UCLA and Texas. Texas was coming off of a win over UNC and was even favored by 4.5 in that game, so a 10 point victory for the Spartans shows that they are very much battle tested early in the season. Not to mention that this is a pretty experienced Michigan State team, relatively speaking.
The two players that stand out while watching the Spartans are guards Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford. Both have continued to be the leading scorers in games and been key ball-handlers for Sparty. Nick Ward is their most consistent post-presence, but the Spartans are definitely a team that starts at the guard play, specifically the play of Winston.
Louisville has lost both games that I see as competitive games going into the season. Their first 3 games were all teams that Louisville was close to a 10-point favorite or more. Louisville even struggled in these games more than they would have liked. In their two most recent games vs. solid programs, Louisville lost 2 close games. The Cardinals trailed by 5 at the half to then-#5 Tennessee and went to overtime with a Marquette team that had only lost to Kansas by 9 the game before. Louisville bigs have really struggled with foul trouble early in the year, which is a concern vs. a Michigan State team that likes to get to the rim. Oddly enough, Louisville’s leading offensive producer is Jordan Nwora, a forward who comes off of the bench. I think this does work in their favor from a matchup standpoint as I would rather attack Michigan State with forwards. The Cardinals are a little less experienced than the Spartans in terms of class and in terms of playing in the big games, which shows in the early season results.
Spartans vs. Cardinals Prediction
The line here is Michigan State -5.5. I just think that is a little disrespectful for the Spartans. Now, I think the main reason the line is that close is the fact that this is a home game for Louisville, but Michigan State may be one of the best road teams, in terms of experience, in the country. I am not really worried about the atmosphere getting to the Spartans as it could with other top teams that are much younger. The Spartans lost 2 underclassmen lottery picks last year, but that doesn’t mean they retooled like a lot of other teams. Michigan State has been a team that has consistently produced upperclassmen that were still very talented and that is what this team has. I think Michigan State is able to stop any momentum Louisville has in this game and handle it by double digits late.