Michigan State Basketball and UCLA square off in first-four tune-up game

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /

What a way to start the NCAA tournament.  It’s a couple of marquee programs enduring a down year dueling it out in a play-in game for the right to face BYU in the first round. It’s a battle for the eleventh seed Michigan State Basketball, and the UCLA Bruins are set to square off Thursday night with the opening tip scheduled for 9:57 p.m. ET.

Michigan State Basketball head coach Tom Izzo is set to embark on his 23rd straight tournament appearance.  After an up and down season, Izzo once again has his club peaking at the right time.  It’s not out of the ordinary to see the Spartans lose some big-time matchups early on in the season but start to string together plenty of wins after Christmas.

If history has shown anything, it’s that an Izzo-coached Spartans team will peak when they need to, win the big game when they need to and become a tough out in the March Madness Tournament.

Over the last two weeks, Michigan State Basketball came away with three victories over top-five teams beating Michigan, Ohio State, and Illinois to cement themselves a spot in the dance.  As the Spartans enter the first-four hot, the same shouldn’t be said for UCLA, who enter the contest having lost their last four games.

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The Bruins ended the regular season losing to USC, Colorado, and Oregon and then were abruptly removed from the PAC-12 tournament with an 83-79 loss to Oregon State in the first round.

UCLA is a tough draw for Michigan State Basketball, who are the slight favorites to win.

The Spartans will need exceptional play from guard Rocket Watts, who isn’t exactly a traditional point guard but more of a shot-creating shooting guard.  For the Spartans to have success, they need Watts also to be more of a facilitator.

The Spartans will be leaning on their sensational forward Aaron Henry, who averages just over 15 points, 5.7 boards, and 3.5 assists per game.

Senior shooting guard Joshua Langford is averaging just under 10 points per game; if the Spartans want to play spoiler throughout the weekend, they will need someone like Langford to exceed expectations.

The Bruins are led by guard Johnny Juzang who averages 14 points per game.

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If the Spartans survive the weekend, they will be forced to play a taxing three games.  You can catch the game on TBS.  According to Bet365, the Spartans are two-point favorites with a -140 money line.  The total points are set at 133.5.