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NCAA First Four Game Preview: No. 11 Michigan State vs. No. 11 UCLA

The Michigan State Spartans and UCLA Bruins meet at Mackey Arena for the First Four series in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. We’ve got everything you need on both teams ahead of the game here.

Tyger Campbell #10 of the UCLA Bruins looks to pass against the Oregon State Beavers during the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Conference basketball tournament at T-Mobile Arena on March 11, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Beavers defeated the Bruins 83-79 in overtime. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Here are the updated bet splits for Michigan State vs. UCLA as of March 18th at 9:30 a.m. from DraftKings Sportsbook:

Michigan State: -2: 90% of action, 87% of bets
UCLA: +XXX: 10% of action, 13% of bets
Over: 135: 34% of action, 53% of bets
Under: 135: 66% of action, 47% of bets

Michigan State and UCLA are set to face off in an NCAA Tournament play-in game on Thursday. The game will tip-off at 9:57 p.m. from and will be broadcast on TBS. The winner of this First Four matchup will go on to face No. 6 BYU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans and Bruins haven’t played this year, but do have a mutual opponent: UCLA lost to Ohio State 77-70, and Michigan State fell to the Buckeyes 79-62.

Here are some things you should know about each team ahead of the action.

No. 11 Michigan State: 15-12 (9-11): At-large bid

KenPom rating: 56 Overall, 98 Offense, 32 Defense
NET ranking: 70, (5-10 VS Quad 1)
Leading scorer: Aaron Henry (15.3 ppg)
Key stat: Michigan ranks 36th in the country with 15.9 assists per game.

The Michigan State Spartans don’t have the flashiest team, but they share the ball better than most teams in the country and take care of the basketball. Their lack of a star shouldn’t hurt them here, and their premier forward in Aaron Henry has a chance to take advantage of his physicality in the post. Look for the Spartans’ bigs to dominate the glass against a UCLA team that starts four guards.

No. 11 UCLA: 17-9 (13-6): At-large bid

KenPom rating: 44 Overall, 98 Offense, 32 Offense
NET ranking: 46 (2-6 VS Quad 1)
Leading scorer: Johnny Juzang (14 ppg)
Key stat: UCLA shoots 36.7% from three-point range, but is 332nd in pace with just 64.7 possessions per game.

The Bruins have five guards averaging double-digits in points. Three of them shoot 37% or better from three, so UCLA’s perimeter efficiency will be critical in this matchup.

The end of the season was a disaster for UCLA, losing four straight games and after holding a double-digit lead in two of them. There was this heartbreaker against rival USC to close the regular season, and then falling in overtime to Oregon State in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament. Winning any of those four games probably keeps them out of the First Four, but they’re here now and will need a big game from Jaime Jaquez (11.7 points, 6.0 rebounds per game) to advance.

March Madness Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

Point spread: Michigan State -1
Point total: 137.5
Moneyline: Michigan State -114, UCLA -105

The Pick

Against The Spread Pick: Michigan State -1
Pick to Win: Michigan State

The Spartans knocked off some of the country's best teams down the stretch in the regular season. Michigan State’s back-to-back victories over Michigan after topping Illinois and Ohio State were more impressive than anything UCLA did this year. The Bruins have imploded down the stretch, while Michigan State has all the momentum.

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