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Joe Boozell | | November 14, 2017

College hoops predictions: Champions Classic and more

  Miles Bridges and the Spartans are much more prepared for this year's Champions Classic than last.

Let’s bounce around the country and predict what will happen in the first full week of the season.

Duke vs. Michigan State (Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN)

 Oh, baby. Marvin Bagley has lived up to the hype in Duke’s first two games, scoring a combined 49 points and grabbing 20 rebounds. His combination of athleticism and coordination is uncanny; most guys have one or the other. Bagley has a sense for the ball, and his explosiveness allows him to leverage those instincts in ways other guys can’t.

The same can be said of Miles Bridges, who has a great chance to win the Naismith. Michigan State isn’t old, but it’s older than Duke, and that matters in November more than it will in March. The Spartans got blown out in last year’s Champions Classic; they were novices. This year, Duke is starting four freshmen.

Dunk by Miles Bridges

But those freshmen happen to be awesome, and the pieces fit in ways they didn’t last year. Grayson Allen is back to playing his normal position, shooting guard. Trevon Duval is the prototypical point guard the Blue Devils lacked last season, and Gary Trent is a knockdown shooter. Bagley and Wendell Carter are already developing the type of high-low chemistry you usually only see from five-year NBA veterans.

This game could go either way. But Duke’s talent is just too overwhelming to pick against.

Prediction: Duke 84, Michigan State 83

Purdue at Marquette (Tuesday, 8:30 p.m. ET, FS1)

Sandwiched in between the two Champions Classic games is Purdue vs. Marquette, a low-key fascinating matchup. The Golden Eagles can beat anyone because they might have the best shooting backcourt in America. Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey both shot better than 45 percent from 3 last year (Howard was well over 50). That fact alone makes Marquette dangerous.

But Purdue is more well-rounded, and plays better defense. Dakota Mathias and Vince Edwards form one of the best wing defense combinations in the country. Isaac Haas has eaten opponents alive on a per minute basis, and Marquette’s interior defense is a weakness.

Dunk by Isaac Haas

Purdue is a sneaky-good 3-point shooting team, having made 40 percent of its 3s last season. But Marquette is tough at home, and it could take the Boilermakers a few games to find their way without Caleb Swanigan. Who do they go to when times get tough?

Prediction: Marquette 81, Purdue 79

Kentucky vs. Kansas (Tuesday, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Kentucky has looked its age in the first two games, which is one way of saying the Wildcats have looked sloppy. Yes, the talent is obvious. But Utah Valley and Vermont were competitive against them at Rupp Arena. Kansas is a different beast.

Kentucky has attempted 3s on less than 20 percent of its possessions thus far, which ranks 286th in the country. Tiny sample size, of course. But outside of inexperience, shooting was this team’s biggest question mark. It will need to knock down some outside shots to hang with Kansas. Who’s going to do it?

3-pointer by Devonte' Graham

Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman can knock down shots for the Jayhawks. Kentucky is going to figure its stuff out, but this is a huge stage for such a young team that will be going against established college basketball players. Kansas knows how to play. Kentucky is still figuring out how to.

Prediction: Kansas 79, Kentucky 71

Indiana at Seton Hall (Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. ET, FS1)

This game looked tastier before Indiana laid an egg against Indiana State on opening night. Seton Hall knows who it is; an Angel Delgado-led veteran group with few exploitable weaknesses. Delgado gobbles up every rebound, and the Pirates leverage his interior gravity by raining from deep.

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A bright spot in Indiana’s first game was De’Ron Davis, who scored 14 points on seven shots. Indiana State eviscerated Indiana on the perimeter, but Davis should be able to hold his own against Delgado. Still, Seton Hall is the better team, and it’s playing at home. No need to overthink this one.  

Prediction: Seton Hall 85, Indiana 68

Butler at Maryland (Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET, FS1)

You never know how a team is going to respond to a new head coach, but Butler has played well early under LaVall Jordan. Kelan Martin is a star, Kamar Baldwin is a star sidekick, and Aaron Thompson looks like a steal for the Bulldogs. All of that is great. But is it enough to beat Maryland in College Park?

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Butler won big game after big game last year. It’s kind of the Bulldogs’ brand. But Maryland is probably just a little bit more talented, and it’s playing at home. Butler doesn’t have a defensive answer for Justin Jackson. The Terrapins have outscored their two opponents 172-104.

Again, small sample size. But in an even matchup, the tie goes to the home team. And, despite everything we like about Butler, there are just a few more reasons to be optimistic about Maryland.

Prediction: Maryland 70, Butler 66

Xavier at Wisconsin (Thursday, 8:30 p.m. ET, FS1)

The Badgers have a new look, but they always seem to reload, and Ethan Happ is still one of the best in the game. And, of course, the Kohl Center is one of the toughest places to win at in the country. This is a heck of a nonconference showdown.

That said, Xavier is battle-tested. The Musketeers are fresh off of an Elite Eight run, and if anyone isn’t going to be intimidated by the crowd in Madison, it’s Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura. Keep an eye on Kaiser Gates, too. Xavier won its first game by 52 and shot 75 percent on 2-pointers – of course, Morehead State isn’t Duke, but that’s impressive regardless of opponent.

This Badger team could very well become as good as some of their squads of recent memory. But we just don’t know yet, and we know exactly what Xavier is: a team with a great coach, two star players, and capable role guys. The Musketeers are primed for a huge year.

Prediction: Xavier 80, Wisconsin 73


Northwestern 75, Creighon 74 (Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET, BTN)
Missouri 67, Utah 61 (Thursday, 8 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network)
Kentucky 74, East Tennessee State 57 (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, SEC Network)
Illinois 70, DePaul 60 (Friday, 8:30 p.m. ET, BTN)

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