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2019 NCAA Tournament Preview: No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 15 Bradley

Can the Spartans get past Bradley?

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Michigan vs Michigan State David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Despite what many have perceived as a “slight” from the NCAA Tournament Committee, the Michigan State Spartans enter the Big Dance with plenty of momentum and sky high expectations. Fans are hopeful that Tom Izzo can engineer another one of his magical March runs. Things will tip-off with a matchup against Bradley on Thursday afternoon.

So, how does Michigan State matchup against the Braves? Let’s take a look.

-No. 2 Michigan State Spartans vs. No. 15 Bradley Braves

  • Time/TV: 2:45PM ET (CBS)
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan State (-21)

For Spartan fans, I imagine most had a similar experience on Sunday night. After the initial shock and rage wore off from Michigan State’s placement as a two seed in the East Region with Duke, they came to the conclusion that things weren’t all that bad. Michigan State’s potential Elite Eight opponent looks tough, but things look pretty manageable in the opening weekend.

And that slate will start with Bradley on Thursday night. The Braves are coached by Brian Wardle and enter the NCAA Tournament with a 20-14 overall record and are 164th nationally on KenPom. This is Bradley’s first NCAA appearance since the program made the Sweet 16 in 2006 with Jim Les.

On paper, there’s no denying that this is a colossal mismatch. Michigan State is better than Bradley in virtually every statistical category and is expected to cruise to an easy win on Thursday afternoon. The Braves only have one win all season against a top 100 team on KenPom, which came against Penn State in late November.

The strength of Bradley’s team lies on the defensive end of the floor. The Braves are 118th nationally in defensive efficiency and 40th in defensive effective field-goal percentage. Those numbers might not sound great, but they’re vastly superior to the team’s offense statistics. The Braves have to hope to slow things down and turn Thursday’s game into a slug fest.

For Bradley to pull off the upset, it’s going to need a huge performance from Darrell Brown in the backcourt and a hot shooting night from Nate Kennell on the wing. It’s also worth noting that the Braves rank 88th nationally in three-point percentage, so the team can get hot on certain nights. It will certainly take quite an effort to upset Michigan State.

But all told, this still projects as an easy win for Michigan State. If the Spartans can get things going whatsoever in transition, it’s hard to imagine Bradley keeping up. The Braves are one of the slowest teams in college basketball and will need to control the pace to come out on top in this one.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Bradley