The 2021 NCAA Tournament officially tips off on Friday but up first is Thursday’s play-in action. It’s the first day of March Madness since 2019 and it’s a long time coming for college hoops fans. The day
Let’s take a look at the schedule.
Game of the Day:
-No. 11 UCLA Bruins vs. No. 11 Michigan State Spartans
- Time/TV: 9:57 p.m. EDT (TBS)
- DraftKings Spread: MSU by 1
The Spartans managed quite the late season heroics to make it into Tom Izzo and the program’s 23rd straight NCAA Tournament, now the second longest active streak in the country. However, can their play-in game be just their first game of the tournament or will it also be their last? Michigan State draws a tough matchup as UCLA battles them tonight for the 11-seed line in the first round to face BYU on Saturday.
In what seems like a made for TV ratings pairing, MSU takes on UCLA in a late, late matchup in this one. Not only that, the game will be played up in Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, over an hour bus ride from the hotels in Indianapolis. Regardless, both fans and players are excited for March Madness.
The venue certainly offers a unique advantage, unless you believe in voodoo. MSU has obviously played in Mackey before, just over a month ago on Feb. 16. However, the team has had terrible luck against the home team, holding a 15-34 record at Mackey overall, while Izzo is 9-15. It still might prove advantageous over the UCLA squad and helpful to not be playing a Matt Painter squad.
The Spartans need some luck as this is a tough matchup for both sides. MSU defeated UCLA last year in Maui 75-62, but the Bruins have a former Izzo recruiting target and deft passer Tyger Campbell that the Spartans would have loved to have for their offense this season. The Cedar Rapids, IA native leads the team in assists (5.6 apg), is the third leading scorer (10.5 ppg), and second in steals (1.2 spg).
Johnny Juzang is the leading scorer for UCLA (14.0 ppg) while Jaime Jaquez is second (12.6 ppg). Two other players also average double figures scoring while Jaquez leads on the boards (6.0 rpg).
UCLA plays a slower and methodical offensive style (No. 332 in KenPom pace) but will likely try to push the MSU big men down low with aggressive drives despite their respectable three point shooting skill on the roster. The Spartans will look to take advantage of their size with players like Marcus Bingham Jr. and work the glass hard like a typical Izzo squad. Add in a good group of wings players for MSU and enough depth to wear Campbell down, it may just prove the advantage for Michigan State.
On top of that, Michigan State is also entering this one with a two game win streak over UCLA. However, the one and only time these teams faced each other in the NCAA Tournament, it was in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament when No. 7 UCLA bested No. 10 MSU 78-76. UCLA also owns the overall series 6-4 over MSU all-time.
This one is a toss-up with two teams evenly matched on paper, but a battle-hardened Big Ten squad that features far more impressive wins down the final stretch and didn’t have to fly across the country this week might just have the advantage MSU needs to get the win over UCLA.
- Pick: Michigan State
That’s it for the Big Ten action tonight, but the rest of the play-in games include:
-No. 16 Texas Southern vs. No. 16 Mount St. Mary’s
- Time/TV: 5:10 p.m. EDT (TruTV)
- Pick: Texas Southern
-No. 11 Drake vs. No. 11 Wichita State
- Time/TV: 6:27 p.m. EDT (TBS)
- Pick: Drake
-No. 16 Appalachian State vs. No. 16 Norfolk State
- Time/TV: 8:40 p.m. EDT (TruTV)
- Pick: Appalachian State
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