Tampa, Florida will host a battle between “name” teams in
the Southeast Region of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament when the
seventh-seed UCLA Bruins (22-10) meet the tenth-seed Michigan State Spartans
(19-14) on Thursday night.
Tip-off is scheduled for 9:20 p.m. ET on TBS. Current NCAA
basketball odds have the Spartans listed as a 1 ½-point favorite. The total
sits at 125 points.
Recent Form: UCLA
The UCLA Bruins enter the NCAA tournament off a 76-59 loss to Oregon in the quarters
of the Pac-10 Tournament. Prior to that surprising defeat as 7 ½-point chalk,
UCLA won seven of nine games SU and ATS.
Over the past five games, the Bruins’ defense has been
particularly sharp, allowing 60.5 ppg. The offense, though, has struggled,
putting up 64.4 ppg. Those numbers are not good for a team that wants to play
an up-tempo offensive game.
Recent Form: Michigan State
The Michigan State Spartans entered the Big Ten Tournament as a bubble
team, but wins over Iowa
and Purdue cemented their spot in the dance. Michigan
State did, however, drop a semifinal
decision to Penn State by a score of 61-48 as a 3 ½-point
favorite. Tom Izzo’s club only made 17 of 53 shots from the field in the loss.
State is 2-4 ATS over its
last six contests. The Spartans’ scoring has been down recently, as the team is
averaging 67.2 ppg over its last five. The defense has only allowed 62.8 ppg
over the same span.
Sagarin Likes the
The most recent Sagarin
Ratings indicate that the sportsbooks have issued a perfect spread. Michigan State is ranked 37th with a
power rating of 83.98. UCLA is ranked 47th with a power rating of
82.43. Those numbers would justify the 1 ½ point advantage for the Spartans.
Sagarin’s Predictor Ratings reach the same conclusion.
It is, however, interesting to note that Michigan State
is only 5-13 SU against Sagarin top-50 teams.
Most experts have Michigan State advancing to the second
round, and I think this is largely due to Tom Izzo’s reputation as a NCAA Tourney mastermind. There are, however, some serious matchup issues for the
Spartans in this game. UCLA is an extremely balanced offensive team. Five
players score double-digits, meaning the Bruins can go inside if the perimeter
shot isn’t working, and vice-versa. The Spartans are largely dependent on Kalin
Lucas on the perimeter and Draymond Green inside. If those two are off their
game or defended well, Michigan
State will struggle.
Defensively, look for both teams to play hard-nosed
man-to-man defense. Both Izzo and Ben Howland preach the importance of defense
and rebounding. UCLA is prone to turnovers, so the Michigan State
offense could earn a few transition baskets.
A Tough Call
Tom Izzo is one of the great NCAA tournament coaches of the
modern era, and I find it very difficult to pick against him in his first
tournament game. This Michigan
State team, though, has
holes that are unusual for an Izzo club. The defense is inconsistent, and the
offense is extremely limited, especially on the interior.
Ben Howland’s club is balanced offensively and defensively.
They’ll turn the ball over, but make just enough plays on both sides of the
court to win the game. The inside game will be the difference, as Joshua Smith
and Reeves Nelson will dominate Izzo’s center-by-committee.
I’ll call for 63-59 UCLA win in a minor upset. Place
one-half unit on the UCLA moneyline.
Thanks to yahoo.com,
espn.com, and SBRodds for information used in this preview.