UCLA takes on Michigan State in a First Four showdown between number 11 seeds of the East Region on March 18th. Game time is 957 E.T. at the Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Indiana.
UCLA started the season strong but found themselves finishing 4th in the Pac-12 after losing their final four assignments. On the other hand, Michigan State finished under the .500 mark in Big Ten play for the first time in Tom Izzo’s illustrious career.
The Bruins were on top of the Pac-12 with an unbeaten 8-0 record in January. But UCLA fell to become the 11th seed in the First Four after closing the season with four consecutive losses. UCLA was cruising in the first half against Oregon State last week but the Beavers rallied to force OT and win the game 83-79.
Jules Bernard led the Bruins with 19 points and 10 rebounds while Jaime Jaquez added 11 points and seven boards. UCLA shot just 42.9% from the floor and was just 5/20 from deep. They also had a total of 14 turnovers, including one OT where they had a three-on-one break and could have taken the lead.
UCLA is putting up 72.8 points per game while conceding an average of 68.5 points per contest. The Bruins are pulling down an average of 35.0 rebounds per outing and are averaging 13.6 assists per game this season.
The Spartans had an inconsistent season where they had a 9-11 conference record. But with victories over three Top 5 teams, they were able to get an NCAA Tournament berth, even if it’s just the 11th seed in the First Four. Michigan State raced to a 23-11 lead over Maryland last Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament but the Terrapins launched a 30-7 run to take control of the game and win 57-68.
Malik Hall scored 19 points on 8-12 shooting while Aaron Henry contributed 12 points, 9 rebounds, and three steals. Michigan State shot just 41.5% from the floor, missed half of their 18 free throws, and committed 18 turnovers as well. Marcus Bingham Jr. scored seven points off the bench while also grabbing five rebounds.
Michigan State is scoring an average of 69.0 points per game this season while allowing opponents to score 70.6 per contest. They are 45th in the league in passing at 15.9 assists per game and are grabbing 37.6 boards per contest.
UCLA is 1-4 SU in their last five games played. The Bruins are 0-5 SU in their last five games against the Big Ten, and 0-5 SU in their last five games played in March. Michigan State is 5-3 SU in their last eight games played. The Spartans are 13-2 SU in their last 15 games played in March, and 16-4 SU in their last 20 games played on a Thursday. Head to head, the Spartans have won two out of their last three meetings against the Bruins.
The Bruins lost senior Chris Smith and his 12.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game to an ACL injury at the start of 2021. UCLA won its first seven games without him but they went 3-11 ATS in their last 14 games, closing the season with four consecutive losses.
Michigan State upset both Michigan and Illinois during a stretch from February 20 to March 7 with the Spartans winning five games including four as the underdog. Izzo’s boys also defeated Indiana twice during that period. The Spartans head to this game with wins in five out of their last eight contests.
This one could go either way but I don’t like how the Spartans have struggled to win when playing away from home.
Prediction UCLA +115
The Bruins are 3-11 ATS in their last 14 games played. UCLA is 1-6 ATS in their last seven games played after an SU loss, 4-10 ATS in their last 14 games played at a neutral venue, 3-7 ATS in their last 10 games in their last 10 games after an ATS loss. However, UCLA is 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games played as the betting underdog. The Spartans are 27-9-1 ATS in their last 37 Thursday games. Michigan State is 5-11 ATS in their last 16 games after an ATS loss, 2-10 ATS in their last 12 games played as the betting favorite, 1-6 ATS in their last seven games at a neutral venue, and 7-17 ATS in their last 24 games played overall. Head to head, the Bruins are 5-1 ATS in their last six games played against the Spartans.
UCLA heads to the tournament with four consecutive losses and the Bruins cannot match Michigan State’s big wins in their resume. However, the Spartans have struggled to win away from home, going 3-9 this season, including 0-1 at a neutral venue. Their struggles have come from an inconsistent offense. UCLA may have dropped its last four games but the last two losses were by a combined five points. I think that the Bruins have more depth and talent in their lineup.
Prediction: UCLA +2
The total has gone over in four out of the last six games played by the Bruins. However, the under is 4-1 in their last five NCAA Tournament games, 4-1 in their last five games against an opponent with a winning SU record, and 5-2 in their last seven games as the betting underdog. The total has gone under in each of the last six games played by the Spartans. The under is 5-0 in their last five games as the betting favorite, 4-0 in their last four NCAA Tournament games, and 5-1 in their last six games against an opponent with a winning SU record. Head to head, the under is 4-1-1 in the last six meetings between these two teams.
Michigan’s defense was the main reason why they produced their three upset wins. They have been very effective in limiting their opponents especially from behind the three-point arc. Offensively, however, they have been held to 57 or fewer points in their last three games away from home. On the other hand, Mick Cronin’s teams play some of the deliberate tempos in college hoops which should help push the score under the predicted total. The Bruins have scored 63 or fewer points in two of their last four games so while their offense is better, it hasn’t been consistent as of late.
Prediction: Under 135
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