For years, opening day of the men's college basketball season was weird. There was never any celebration of the sport starting again. Just random Big East vs. Patriot League games on internet streams.
Moving the Champions Classic to the first day of the season fixed that.
College basketball returns on Tuesday night. Technically speaking the season starts when Alcorn State tips off against Washington State at noon Pacific time on Pac-12 Network. But it really gets rolling when Michigan State faces Kansas and then Duke takes on Kentucky at Madison Square Garden.
The return of college basketball also means the return of college basketball betting. BetMGM has 71 Tuesday games on the board. Kansas is a 4.5-point favorite over Michigan State and Duke is a 1.5-point favorite over Kentucky.
Let's take the late game first (we'll break down the first game below). Both Duke and Kentucky were down last season but are going to rebound in a big way. The headliner in this game will be Duke freshman Paolo Banchero. The 6-10 five-star recruit looks like he can do it all, from banging inside to hitting 3s, passing for teammates and defending multiple positions. He could be the first pick of the 2022 NBA draft and it won't be surprising if he's the talk of the basketball world after his showcase on Tuesday night. Duke has a lot around him too. This should be a big, athletic team that takes a huge step forward on defense.
Kentucky will be good too, with another great freshman class in and some time to get them ready this year. The Wildcats seem to have addressed weaknesses at point guard and with their shooting, with freshman, returnees or transfer additions. It should be a great game, but I think the Blue Devils will be a touch better early in the season and they'll get the win.
Regardless of the outcome, it'll be good to see a marquee college basketball matchup again.
Here's the first look at the sports betting slate for Tuesday:
Oh, that other Champions Classic game?
The first game of the MSG doubleheader isn't Duke-Kentucky, but still a quality tilt. Kansas wasn't great last season, Michigan State was even worse, but both programs should return in this more normal season.
Kansas is a Final Four contender. They have some good returnees and added Arizona State transfer Remy Martin, who was named Big 12 preseason player of the year. Even though Michigan State isn't expected to be a top-10 team, I still trust Tom Izzo to have his team ready and will take the 4.5 points. The Spartan offense will be better with some shooters and a new point guard in Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker, who averaged 18.8 points last season. Kansas is the bette team but the Spartans can compete in the opener.
What about the rest of the college hoops schedule?
There are a lot of games but not many good ones. There are many mismatches with huge spreads. There are a couple of mid-major games featuring four teams you could very well see in your NCAA tournament bracket. I'll take Belmont -3.5 at Ohio (Belmont could be everyone's Cinderella pick by March) and Cal Irvine +4.5 over New Mexico State. It wouldn't surprise me if all four teams won their conferences. And give me a very good St. Bonaventure team -19.5 over Siena. Yeah, it's not a great card after the Champions Classic unless you're a hardcore college hoops fan.
Anything in the NBA?
It's a light three-game slate. The reeling Milwaukee Bucks take on the depleted Philadelphia 76ers in what should have been a much better game. The Atlanta Hawks face the Utah Jazz, which could be a great game even with the Hawks playing a back-to-back after facing Golden State on Monday night. The Hawks are 7.5-point underdogs and that seems too high. And the Portland Trail Blazers take on the Los Angeles Clippers, who are 3-point favorites.
Yes, MACtion is in full swing. Miami (Ohio) is a 7.5-point favorite over Buffalo, Western Michigan is -25.5 vs. Akron and Eastern Michigan is -6 vs. Ohio. That'll do for a Tuesday night if you don't like hoops.
What's the best bet?
I'll stick with Duke. Banchero will turn some heads in New York City in his college debut, maybe not quite like Zion Williamson at the Champions Classic when he was at Duke but still impressive. It's a great way to kick off the season.