Which Possible Title Hopeful Will Come Out On Top?
Michigan State has already taken down one top ACC team early in the college basketball season, knocking off Duke in the Champions Classic last week. Can they defeat a second ACC power Wednesday when they visit Virginia in an ACC/Big Ten Challenge showdown?
Wednesday night’s meeting in Charlottesville, which tips off at 9:15 pm local time and will be broadcast on ESPN, pits the 18th-ranked Cavaliers against the fourth-ranked Spartans in one of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge’s 14 games.
This matchup between two of college basketball’s biggest names comes with extra intrigue, as it sees the Hauser brothers face off. The duo played together at Marquette in the 2018/19 season, after which older brother Sam transferred to Virginia and younger brother Joey transferred to Virginia.
Which brother will have bragging rights after their matchup?
Spartans Strive to Stay Perfect
Tom Izzo lost All-American guard Cassius Winston and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Xavier Tillman from a team which shared the Big Ten regular season title with Maryland and Wisconsin.
But he retained forward Aaron Henry, who pulled out of the NBA Draft, and added another frontcourt talent in Hauser. Those two have been a big part of Michigan State’s 5-0 start. Hauser has hit the ground running, leading the team in scoring and rebounding (14 points and 10 rebounds per game) and posting three double-doubles. He is also shooting 39.1% from three.
Henry has filled up the stat sheet, averaging 11.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.8 steals, and two blocks per game. The only thing he hasn’t done well is shoot it. He is only shooting 37.3% from the field and has made one of 12 three-pointers.
The other double-digit scorer for the Spartans is sophomore guard Rocket Watts (13.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg, and 4.2 apg). Watts scored 20 points against Duke, and his 23-point effort helped stave off upset-minded Detroit on Friday. Another danger man for Michigan State is forward Gabe Brown, who scored 16 points and made multiple key baskets down the stretch against Detroit. Brown has made 10 of 21 threes thus far.
Michigan State was hugely impressive in their 75-69 win over Duke, leading the Blue Devils by as many as 16. They have been less impressive since. The win over Detroit wasn’t secure until the final minute, and Sunday’s 79-61 win over Western Michigan was a four-point contest until midway through the second half.
Virginia Still Searching for Their Best
The Cavaliers entered the season as a main national championship favorite along with the likes of Gonzaga, Villanova, and Baylor. This was despite the loss of two key players in Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key.
But the Cavaliers were shocked by San Francisco in their second game, with the Dons posting a decisive 8-0 run late in a 61-60 win. They nearly suffered another stunning loss Friday against Kent State, trailing with over a minute left before eventually prevailing 71-64 in overtime.
A much stronger effort is required against Michigan State.
Just as his brother is at Michigan State, Sam Hauser is already producing at Virginia. He is averaging 14.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game and is shooting 43.8% from three. Frontcourt mate Jay Huff is averaging 12.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, and 2.5 blocks per game. Guard Trey Murphy, a Rice transfer, is averaging 10.8 ppg and 3 rpg and has hit eight of 15 shots from deep.
The Cavaliers will need guard Kihei Clark to find his best form to help find their best form. Clark averaged 10.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg, and 5.9 rpg last season, but he has struggled out of the gate.
Last season, Clark had three or fewer assists only five times in 30 games but has yet to top three in a game this year. After averaging 9.3 shots per game last season, he is only 6 of 17 in four games, including only 1 of 4 from three (37.5% in 2019/20). However, there were encouraging signs against Kent State, as Clark scored a season-high 14 points in 38 minutes.
Clark has been replaced in the starting lineup in the last two games by freshman Reece Beekman. A strong showing against the Spartans could help him and his team. If he can get to the free-throw line like he did against San Francisco (7 of 10) and Kent State (9 of 12), that could be key.
The odds for the game have not been released yet, but Virginia will no doubt be favored to take the victory when the odds do come out.
Since the start of the 2013-14 season, the Cavaliers are 47-4 in non-conference games. In the history of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Virginia is 7-2 in home games. One of those two losses came the last time they hosted a ranked team in this event, when #8 Wisconsin won 48-38 in Charlottesville in 2013.
ACC teams have been more successful in home games than Big Ten teams, posting a 78-36 record to the Big Ten’s 68-48. That includes a 15-3 mark in true ACC member-hosted home games pitting two ranked teams.
Their own history is not on Michigan State’s side here. The Spartans are 1-8 in road games in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, including six straight losses as a ranked team since winning at North Carolina in 1999, the first year of the event.
See Bovada for updated lines and odds.