MSU Spartans To Face UCLA In First Four Of NCAA Tournament

Written By Drew Ellis on March 14, 2021Last Updated on March 15, 2021
michigan state ncaa tournament

Take a sigh of relief Michigan State fans.

The Spartans are officially making their 23rd consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance this week but will have to win a First Four contest against UCLA to get to the round of 64.

MSU was named an 11 seed in the East region on Selection Sunday.

Do the Spartans have another miracle run in March up their sleeves?

Sportsbooks see Michigan State as a longshot

Understandably, Michigan State is getting much love from the oddsmakers to win this year’s March Madness.

BetMGM Sportsbook is listing the Spartans at +6600 to win the NCAA Tournament. Conversely, MSU’s First Four opponent of UCLA is listed at +3500. Strangely enough, BYU, the 6 seed that awaits the MSU vs. UCLA winner is listed at +8000.

When it comes to Thursday’s contest, DraftKings Sportsbook is listing MSU as a 1-point favorite against UCLA. They have the over/under currently listed at 137.5 points.

Spartans exit Big Ten Tournament early

Michigan State had some nice wins to end the regular season, but the Spartans stumbled against Maryland in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday.

Despite jumping out to a 23-11 lead in the first half, the Spartans lost 68-57 to the Terrapins. MSU had a stretch of over eight minutes of game time without scoring a single point. They finished 4 of 16 from the arc in the loss while committing 18 turnovers.

Fouls were an issue as well, as MSU had 23 team fouls, leading to 28 free throw attempts by Maryland. Tom Izzo was not pleased with the officiating during the game, drawing a technical foul that helped spark the long Maryland run.

MSU vs. UCLA hard to predict

Michigan State’s latest loss is an example of the head-scratching play they have shown in the closing month.

Sitting at 10-9 at one point in the season, MSU looked like it may miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1997.

However, MSU (15-12) rallied and picked up marquee wins over Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan, all while they were ranked in the top 5.

During that time, MSU still had some ugly showings, including a 73-55 loss at Maryland and a 69-50 loss at Michigan where it failed to make a single 3-point attempt.

A lack of reliable offense has been MSU’s biggest issue this season. The Spartans rank just 230th in offense, averaging 69.5 points per game. They ranked nearly the same in shooting (42.5%) and 3-point shooting (32.2%).

The unpredictability of MSU’s play also lies within their star players.

Aaron Henry has been the clear leader, averaging 15.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, but his supporting cast tends to vary.

Transfer Joey Hauser has looked lost at times and had just four points in Thursday’s loss to Maryland.

Rocket Watts exploded for 21 points in the win over Michigan but was held to just three points in 31 minutes against the Terps. He has scored six points or less in 10 of his last 12 games.

Senior Joshua Langford hasn’t found his shot consistently, shooting just 36 percent from the field and 33% from the arc this season.

UCLA backing into NCAA Tournament

UCLA went 17-9 on the season and finished fourth in the Pac-12 Conference at 13-6.

The Bruins are limping into this First Four game, having lost their last four games of the season. However, all were by single digits.

UCLA has a stronger offense than what MSU has shown, averaging 72.6 points per game while shooting 46.3% from the field and 37.3% from the arc.

The team lost guard Chris Smith earlier in the year to a knee injury. He averaged 12.6 points per game. Despite that, the Bruins still have five players averaging double figures in scoring.

Johnny Juzang has been the leader with 14 ppg.  Jaime Jaquez Jr., Tyger Campbell, Jules Bernard and Cody Riley also average in double figures.

The Bruins did face one Big Ten team this season, suffering a 77-70 loss to Ohio State back on Dec. 19.

One challenge for UCLA is making the trip to Indianapolis, while MSU has been stationed there since early last week. With the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis already, the Spartans are accustomed to their new surroundings and can focus on the Bruins.

Photo by AP Photo/Michael Conroy
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Drew Ellis

Drew Ellis is the Lead Writer of Playinmichigan, the No. 1 source for online gambling news in Michigan. A lifelong resident of the state, Ellis has been working in various forms of media since 1998, including more than a decade in the sports betting industry prior to transitioning into US casino markets in 2020.

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