Armed Forces Classic Best Bet: Michigan State Vs. Gonzaga

The coolest college basketball game of the year returns on Veterans Day, Friday, when the Armed Forces Classic tips off on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln off the coast of San Diego.

The Michigan State Spartans (1-0, 0-0 in Big Ten) meet the No. 2 Gonzaga Bulldogs (1-0, 0-0 in WCC) at 3:30 p.m. ET and the game broadcasts on ESPN. This is the ninth Armed Forces Classic since 2012 but the event has been on a two-year hiatus due to COVID.

Michigan State is appearing in its third Armed Forces Classic and second game on a ship. The Spartans are 0-2 in the Armed Forces Classic and lost to North Carolina in the 2011 Carrier Classic on the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego.

Gonzaga makes its second appearance in this event. It’s the Bulldogs’ first since a slippery floor caused a halftime cancelation vs. Pittsburgh in 2015 in Japan.

Both teams rolled in their season openers. The Spartans beat North Arizona 73-55 but failed to cover as 21-point home favorites. The Bulldogs crushed North Florida 104-63, barely covering as 3-point home favorites.

These teams haven’t played since 2011 but Michigan State is 4-1 all-time vs. Gonzaga.

Betting Details (DraftKings)

  • Moneyline: Michigan State (+530), Gonzaga (-730)
  • Against the spread: Michigan State +11.5 (-115), Gonzaga -11.5 (-105)
  • Total (O/U) — 142 — OVER: -115, U: -105

The gist of my handicap here is to be the buyback against all the pro-Under money that flooded the market early. This game opened with a 157-point total but has been lowered by 15 points. More bets and money are still on the Under, but to a lesser extent, according to VSIN.

Michigan State-Gonzaga is on a boat so there are abnormal sightlines and weather conditions for a basketball game. According to Accuweather, temperatures in San Diego will be in the low-60s around tip-off with wind gusts upwards of 15 mph. This is the reason bettors are hammering the Under.

But, oddsmakers knew this already when they set the original price. If this were two-way action, I’d also bet the Under based on the playing conditions. I refuse to believe sportsbooks were wrong by 15 points on their original line.

Also, Gonzaga is going to speed up the pace, leading to more possessions and more field goal attempts. The Bulldogs were fifth in adjusted tempo last year per Ken Pom and played at the seventh-fastest pace in their first game this season.

Gonzaga Bulldogs Drew Timme in action against the Arkansas Razorbacks during the first half in the Sweet Sixteen round game of the 2022 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Chase Center in San Francisco.
Gonzaga Bulldogs Drew Timme in action against the Arkansas Razorbacks during the first half in the Sweet Sixteen round game of the 2022 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Chase Center in San Francisco. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Because of their pace, the Bulldogs typically have high totals. However, Gonzaga is 11-5 O/U when the total drops to 145 or lower. On the other hand, Michigan State games generally have a lower total. The Spartans are 18-12 O/U when the total is 145 or less since the beginning of last season.

Gonzaga has never been an aggressive defense so Michigan State will have a chance to run its offensive sets. The Bulldogs have been outside the top 137 teams in defensive turnover rate every year from 2014-2021, according to Ken Pom.

Furthermore, Michigan State is 5-1 O/U in its last six neutral-site games and 4-1 O/U in its last five vs. teams with a 60.0% or better winning percentage.

Finally, college basketball officiating gets weird in primetime games. There’s an off-chance one of these teams unnecessarily fouls down double digits in the last minute and this goes Over in garbage time.

BET: OVER 142 (-115) in Michigan State-Gonzaga at DraftKings Sportbook, up to 145.


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Written by Geoff Clark

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