The 2021 March Madness tips off Thursday with the First Four matchups, so here’s the best betting pick for the marquee showdown between the UCLA Bruins and Michigan State Spartans at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette.
Two at-large teams meet for the first time since 2019 when the Spartans beat the Bruins 75-62 as 14-point favorites in the non-conference play. Michigan State opens as a slight 1.5-point fave for Thursday’s clash, according to William Hill Sportsbook, while UCLA is listed as a +115 moneyline dog with a total of 135.5 points.
The Bruins hope to stop a four-game slide
The UCLA Bruins (17-9; 12-14 ATS) finished the regular season on a three-game losing streak and got beaten by the Oregon State Beavers 83-79 in overtime in their first game of the Pac-12 Championship Tournament.
UCLA blew a 16-point first-half lead against the Beavers, allowing their opponents to make 10 triples out of 25 attempts (40.0%). The Bruins posted 16 offensive rebounds, but they also committed 14 turnovers and dished out only eight assists.
After a rough finish of the regular-season and a painful exit from the championship tourney, the Bruins enter the Big Dance as the No. 46 in the NCAA NET Rankings and No. 44 in the KenPom rankings. They score 113.4 points per 100 possessions (26th in the nation) and surrender 97.5 in a return (86th).
Five UCLA players average points in double figures and sophomore guard Johnny Juzang is the leading scorer with 14.0 points a night on 41.2% shooting from the field. The Bruins rank 66th in the country in field goal percentage (46.2%) and 52nd in 3-point percentage (36.7%).
The Spartans won five of their last eight games
The Michigan State Spartans (15-12; 9-18 ATS) have had a lot of ups and downs this season. They’ve still managed to finish the regular season on a high note including a 70-64 home victory over the No. 2 Michigan Wolverines.
However, Michigan State disappointed in the Big Ten Championship Tournament, suffering a 68-57 loss to the Maryland Terrapins in its first outing. The Spartans struggled mightily on the offensive end and turned the ball over 18 times while making just 25.0% of their 3-pointers.
Michigan State is No. 70 in the NCAA NET Rankings and No. 56 in the KenPom rankings. The Spartans are tallying 107.0 points per 100 possessions (98th) on 42.4% shooting from the field (257th) while yielding 93.0 points in a return (32nd) on 42.5% shooting from the field (138th).
Junior wing Aaron Henry leads the way for Michigan State, posting 15.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game. Sophomore forward Joey Hauser notches 9.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per contest, while senior guard Joshua Langford adds 9.6 points and 3.4 boards a night.
- 3-11 ATS in the last 14 games overall
- 3-7 ATS in the last ten games played in March
- 7-2 ATS in the last nine games played in March
Although UCLA meets Michigan State at the neutral site, the Spartans know Mackey Arena very well, as they play alongside Purdue in the Big Ten Conference. This could be a big advantage for the Spartans, as we’re about to see a very tight contest.
Also, I would lean on the Spartans’ defense to make the difference down the stretch. The Bruins have struggled offensively over the last few weeks, and their lack of depth could be another big issue in this matchup.
Pick: Take Michigan State -1.5 at -110
The Spartans’ last six games went in the under. Michigan State mostly leans on its defense, and I’ve already mentioned how poorly the Spartans shoot the ball. On the other side, four of UCLA’s last eight contests went in the under, while the Bruins love to play at a slow pace, averaging only 64.7 possessions per 40 minutes (332nd in the nation).
Michigan State averages 68.6 possessions per 40 minutes, so I’m expecting a low-scoring affair. Of course, you never know what can happen in the final two minutes, as we could see a ton of free throws, but going with the under seems like the right choice.
Pick: Go under 135.5 points at -110