As always, the college basketball season kicks off with a hammer drop and James Scully provides his 2018 Champions Classic betting free picks for tonight’s mega matchups featuring Michigan State, Kansas, Kentucky and Duke!

Michigan State Spartans vs Kansas Jayhawks -6.0
(7:00 p.m. ET)

Kansas is loaded. Jayhawks add prize recruit Grimes and three transfers are expected to make an impact including Dedric Lawson. And even though three starters departed from last year’s Final Four squad, 7-footer center Azubuike appears ready to blossom into an inside force and Vick will provide senior leadership at guard.

Jayhawks will get after teams defensively with a deep rotation and looked poised to control the paint in most match-ups.

Michigan State lost Miles Bridges and Joshua Jackson to the NBA, but a good nucleus returns in the backcourt with Langford and Winston. And Ward provides a steadying inside influence.

But Spartans lack depth in the front-court and easy buckets will be difficult to come by in the season opener. They’ll play more of an up-tempo style this year, with McQuaid on the floor and Langford and Winston in a three-guard set. They must exploit the perimeter to have any chance to beat Kansas.

Michigan State is the team to beat in the Big 10 this year and I expect them to be a dangerous come March for Tom Izzo. They’ll likely start fast on Tuesday night.

Ultimately, Kansas’ size and depth will prove too much as they score willingly around the bucket while controlling the paint and the Jayhawks will win going away by a double-digit margin.

2018 Champions Classic Betting Free Pick – Kansas -6

Duke Blue Devils vs Kentucky Wildcats -1.5
(9:30 p.m. ET)

These young teams will have a different look by March and this match-up could have a different outcome later in the season after Duke’s talented freshmen core develops, but Kentucky’s experience will be the difference in season opener.

Wildcats the youngest team in the nation last year and added several quality newcomers to this season’s squad, but P.J. Washington, Reid Travis, Quade Green and Nick Richards (four key players in a deep rotation) bring veteran leadership to the equation.

Fitness a concern for young Blue Devils roster that must also worry about foul trouble, with Coach K utilizing six players primarily, and Kentucky has the depth and versatility to wear down an inexperienced foe still looking to gel into a cohesive unit.

Zion Williamson is a freak who will get his dunks and R.J. Barrett may prove to be the nation’s best guard, but Duke still has plenty to learn from a rotation standpoint – they are stocked at the wing position with players who are still adjusting to new roles and are thin to start the year on the front-court.

Kentucky will be one of the country’s top shot-blocking teams with phenomenal inside players in Reid (who will be perhaps the nation’s leading rebounder), Washington and Montgomery, and Richards is a shot-blocking fiend. And theKentucky Wildcats feature an excellent balance of outside shooting and explosive wing players to go with their inside play.

A close and exciting game looks very possible well into the second half, but Kentucky will eventually seize the upper hand to win going away late.

2018 Champions Classic Betting Free Pick – Kentucky -1.5