The NCAA Tournament gets underway Thursday, and the First Four gives us a legendary matchup as the Michigan State Spartans (15-12) face the UCLA Bruins (17-9). The winner enters the Field of 64 to face the No. 6 seed BYU Cougars, and both fan bases are very familiar with success in March.
Tip-off is set for 9:57 pm ET on Thursday from Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind., and will be televised on TBS.
These programs have met six times through the years, all since 2003. Four of the matchups have been on neutral sites, with games in Hawaii, Las Vegas, Florida and Kansas City.
The Bruins beat the Spartans 78-76 in the second round back in 2011 in the only NCAA Tournament matchup between the teams.
Spartans Need To Help Henry
Tom Izzo’s squad was on the bubble all season long with their worst record since 1989, and the Spartans are just 9-18 ATS. A win over rival Michigan in the regular-season finale, along with wins over Illinois and Ohio State, went a long way to extending the tournament streak to 23.
While the team isn’t very tournament-tested, Izzo is, and the upperclassmen like Aaron Henry, Joshua Langford and Gabe Brown were part of a Final Four run in 2019. Henry is averaging 15.3 points per game this season and also leads the team with 3.5 assists.
Sophomore Joey Hauser scores 9.7 points per game to go with 5.7 rebounds, while Langford scores 9.6 points per game.
The Spartans are a streaky team, shooting 32 percent from behind the arc and ranking 237th in scoring at 69.0 points per game. The under was 17-10 in their 27 games, and they need Hauser, Brown or Rocket Watts to step up and help Henry carry the load against the Bruins.
Balanced Bruins Looking for Spark
UCLA is no stranger to the First Four, having lost to St. Bonaventure at this stage in 2018 in its most recent NCAA Tournament appearance. The Bruins were also an 11th seed in 2015 and look to beat Michigan State for the second time in a decade. The Bruins are 12-14 ATS, and the over is 15-11 in their 26 games.
Mick Cronin’s squad has six players averaging at least 10 points per game led by sophomore Johnny Juzang at 14.0. Tyger Campbell has a team-best 5.6 assists with 10.5 points.
The Bruins don’t turn the ball over, finishing top 40 in the country at 11.2 turnovers per game. They also shoot the ball well from long range at 37.3 percent, good for 41st in the nation.
Controlling the pace will be important to both teams as UCLA likes to play a bit faster while the Spartans enjoy the halfcourt game. Michigan State will need to shoot well from three-point range to keep up with UCLA’s perimeter game.
A close game benefits the Spartans, who are battle-tested from the Big Ten and have won four straight games decided by seven points or less.
Free Pick: Don’t bet against Izzo in March. Michigan State -2.
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